PESHAWAR: There are signs of winds of change blowing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as the regions previously opposed to women’s right to vote are making headway in letting women exercise their franchise on May 11.
The parts of Malakand division and Peshawar outskirts with no tolerance for the women’s vote previously are working for the first time to let the change happen, allowing village women folk to use their constitutional right to vote.
“Jamaat-i-Islami has instructed all of its national and provincial assembly candidates in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to stay away from entering into any agreement at the local level that prohibits women vote,” JI secretary of information, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter Israrullah advocate told Dawn on Wednesday.
A candidate for Peshawar’s National Assembly constituency, NA-3, Mr Israrullah said JI was running an active campaign across the province to win over women voters.
The change is not restricted to JI only.
Another religio-political party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, has also braced for the change, acknowledging the women’s political significance in the conservative Lower and Upper Dir districts.
JUI-F is holding a Khawateen Ijtema (women’s meeting) on coming Sunday in Talash, Lower Dir district, to attract local female voters to its ranks, according to a JUI-F candidate.
“The area (Talash) is visibly set to break away from its local traditions (of not allowing women to cast votes),” said Qazi Ayazuddin, a JUI-F candidate for the provincial assembly constituency, PK-94.
He said all political parties, be it they religious or liberal ones, were informally electioneering to tap women voters.
According to him, Naeema Kishwer, JUI-F’s former member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, would be the lead guest speaker at the party’s first ever ‘Khawateen Ijtema’ in Talash.
Though cautious in her approach, Shabeena Ayaz, the Peshawar-based regional director of Aurat Foundation, a women right group, acknowledges the signs of change taking place.
“No agreement (among candidates against women vote) has surfaced anywhere in the province so far,” said Ms Ayaz. She, however, said the civil society organisations in Malakand division were not without suspicions, apprehending that women would not be allowed to cast votes in areas traditionally opposed to women vote.
“It (allowing women to vote) would certainly be a very big change,” said Ms. Ayaz.
The change, in a few instances, has been triggered out of competition as political parties are fighting tooth and nail electoral battles at several places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“We jumped into the fray because JI is taking keen interest in tapping women voters,” said JUI-F’s Qazi Ayazuddin from Talash.
JI’s Israrullah said his party candidates were targeting women voters across the province with the party’s women wing performing the lead role in running door-to-door campaigns to connect with the female voters.
“In my Peshawar’s semi-urban-cum-rural National Assembly constituency, there used to be several polling stations, where female voting was disallowed under agreements among the candidates, but this time, it is not going to happen as we are not considering it as an option,” said the JI leader. However, the future of women casting vote in the conservative areas is still not without concerns for some.
Ms Ayaz of the Aurat Foundation said her organisation had already expressed concerns about the polling scheme made by the Election Commission of Pakistan in several sensitive regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
She said the civil society organisations had been demanding that there should be separate polling stations for women in areas with low tolerance for women vote and that all women polling stations should be set up at places away from polling stations for men.
Her views sounded to hold some valid ground as JUI-F’s Qazi Ayazuddin also expressed an identical opinion.
In his constituency, PK-94, he said there would be separate women polling stations to be set up in Talash, Timergara and Mayaar areas.
Similarly, in PK-97, a women-specific polling station would be set up in Ooch, Lower Dir, said Mr Ayazuddin.
Meanwhile, political leaders from the conservative upper Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also hinting at the winds of change taking place for the women’s lot.
Abdul Sattar Khan, a former member of the provincial assembly from the conservative Kohistan district, told Dawn on Wednesday that women would be allowed to use their vote in the coming elections.
According to Mr Khan, the district returning officer of Kohistan had convened a meeting of all candidates contesting for the lone national assembly and three provincial assembly constituencies, on Thursday. He said the meeting was aimed at raising women’s awareness of use of their right to vote.
However, the clear moves for allowing women to vote for the first time initiated a week ago when an important local cleric made a speech during the last Friday congregation in support of allowing women to vote in the May 11 elections.