ISLAMABAD May 10: When it comes to general elections in Pakistan, it’s a man’s world.
Only a handful of women will be challenging the primarily male candidates when the polls open. These women are contesting elections in three dozen constituencies (including Bajaur Agency).
Almost all the major political parties have awarded tickets to prominent women. But some, such as Badam Zari and Nusrat Begum, have become the first tribal women to file nomination papers (as independent candidates). In 2008, 15 female candidates won on general seats.
Female participation in elections appears to have more to do with the continued influence of family dynasties; there is little shift in the gender-pattern in terms of directly elected national and provincial assembly candidates.
Women who stand independently
A number of women are contesting independently, facing enormous odds.
The 40-year-old NA-44 candidate from Bajaur Agency, Badam Zari, says she wants to work for the welfare of tribal women. She is up against 25 men, including the former MNA Akhunzada Chitan of the PPP. In the last election, the tribal areas were forced to hold ‘party-less’ elections but this time, a large number of candidates are fighting from party platforms.
Reports have recently emerged that a male front from the PPP, the Awami National Party (ANP), and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reached an informal agreement to block women from voting, asking ‘local operators’ to enforce the decision.But one of the other ways in which a male-dominant system stops women from participating in the electoral system is by refusing to give them party tickets.
Nusrat Begum, who was the vice president of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in Lower Dir, decided to contest the elections as an independent candidate when her party gave the ticket to Bashir Khan. Her main rivals are Fazlullah of the JUI-F, Malik Azmat Khan of the PPP, Farid Khan Yousufzai of the PML-N and Abdul Hannan of the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz.
Despite the hope that women such as Zari embody, most women contesting the elections come from major family dynasties that command existing support.
President Asif Ali Zardari’s sisters, Faryal Talpur and Dr Azra Fazal, are contesting on general seats. The former speaker of the National Assembly and spouse of Zulfiqar Mirza, Dr Fehmida Mirza will be contesting from NA-225 in Badin, where she is up against another woman — Bibi Yasmeen Shah of the PML-Functional (PML-F). Yasmeen Shah served as a senator on the PML-Q ticket after the 2002 elections.
Another dynasty candidate is Ghinwa Bhutto, the widow of Murtaza Bhutto and the head of the PPP-Shaheed. She is contesting on four constituencies — two in Larkana and two in Karachi. In Larkana, she is facing the PPP’s Faryal Talpur and renowned literary figure Mahtab Akbar Rashidi, who is contesting on the PML-F ticket.
Sindh’s female guard
The PPP leads in terms of awarding tickets to women.
Shazia Marri of the PPP is in the field in NA-235 (Sanghar) where her main rival is Pir Saddaruddin Shah of the PML-F.
The PML-N has awarded general-seat tickets to two women in Sindh: Marvi Memon (NA-237, Thatta) and Raheela Magsi (NA-223, Tando Allahyar).
In NA-250 Karachi, former MNA Khushbakht Shujaat has again succeeded in getting the MQM ticket.
The battle in Punjab
Two women are vying for two general National Assembly seats from Vehari.In NA-168, the PPP’s former MNA Natasha Daultana is facing the PTI’s senior leader Ishaq Khakwani and in NA-169, PML-N’s stalwart Tehmina Daultana is expected to have a one-to-one contest with Aftab Khichi of the PTI.
In NA-69 (Khushab), a one-to-one contest is expected between the PML-N’s Sumaira Malik and Umer Aslam Khan of the PTI. Sumaira Malik won this seat in the 2002 elections on the PML-Q ticket. An independent, Farkhanda Warraich, is contesting for the NA-79 seat from Faisalabad; her main rival is former PPP minister Rana Farooq Saeed Khan.
Another constituency where two women are contesting on the tickets of two main parties is NA-88 Jhang where the PML-N is backing former MNA Ghulam Bibi Bharwana, while the PML-Q banner is held by Fozia Ashraf. Khawaja Ataullah Khan Taunsa Sharif of the PPP is their main rival.
Former information minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan is also in the run for two NA seats from Sialkot (NA-110 and NA-111) on the PPP ticket. She faces PML-N heavyweight Khwaja Mohammad Asif and Usman Dar of the PTI in NA-110.
The ones from Lahore, ’Pindi
Bushra Aitzaz, the wife of PPP legal wizard Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, is contesting on the PPP ticket from NA-124 and former minister Samina Khalid Ghurki is defending NA-130 in Lahore. One of the contestants facing PML-N president Nawaz Sharif in NA-120 is also a woman. The PTI has awarded its ticket to Dr Yasmin Rashid. Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League had awarded a ticket to Saira Goga, daughter of Goga Pehalwan, but the APML is now boycotting the polls.
The PTI has fielded another female candidate in NA-54 (Rawalpindi), with Hina Manzoor facing Zamarrud Khan of the PPP and Malik Abrar of the PML-N.
Irum Fatima of the ANP is in a tough fight against three political heavyweights in NA-19 (Haripur) where the PML-N has fielded Umar Ayub Khan, while the PTI has nominated Raja Amir Zaman and Sardar Muhstaq is in the run on the PPP ticket.
Renowned Pushto film actress Mussarrat Shaheen is once again challenging JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in NA-24. The PPP has awarded ticket to former senator Waqar Ahmed Khan.
In NA-9 (Mardan), the PPP has awarded its ticket to Shazia Aurangzeb against former KP chief minister Ameer Haider Hoti of the ANP.
Former education minister in the Musharraf regime, Zobaida Jalal, is also contesting the polls on a general seat from NA-272 (Kech-Gwadar) on a PML-N ticket.