JHANG: Five female candidates, all of them are either incumbent or former parliamentarians, are in the fray to contest the forthcoming general elections from national and provincial assembly constituency of Jhang. They include Abida Hussain, Sughra Imam, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana, Saima Akhtar Bharwana and Rashida Yaqoob.

An addition to the club is also Alisha Iftikhar, who will contest election for the first time.

The district holds the distinction of having produced popularly elected female candidates despite the fact Jhang is a very backward rural district of Punjab where the urban population is hardly 10 per cent of the total population of the district. The Jhang society is generally very conservative and male-dominated.

Begum Abida set the example for other females by contesting election for an MPA on women’s special seat in 1972. She later became an MNA in 1985 on the general seat. In 1988, she contested the election as an independent candidate from two constituencies, trouncing very powerful rivals, one of them being Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the founder chief of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan. She lost elections in 1990 as an Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) candidate to PPP’s Faisal Saleh Hayat. The IJI government, however, made her ambassador to the US. Due to her diplomatic assignments, she was ineligible to contest the 1993 general election. She, however, made a comeback to the assembly in the 1997 election, following which she was made a federal minister. Afterwards, she contested the 2002 and 2008 general elections losing both to Faisal Saleh Hayat. Now, she has again returned to the electoral politics and is likely to be an independent candidate for NA-115.

By the time Begum Abida was making history, Asifa Farooqi, a lower middle-class woman and a schoolteacher from Jhang, was elected a senator in 1973 in the first Senate of Pakistan after the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution. Begum Abida’s daughter, Sughra Imam, was elected the Jhang District Council chairperson in 1998. She was later elected an MPA in the general elections and was made a provincial minister. She was also elected a senator in 2012 on the PPP ticket. She is likely to be a candidate for an MPA seat in the forthcoming election.

Unlike the Syed family, the Bharwana family dispatched their women to electoral politics in 2002. MNA Ghulam Bibi Bharwana belongs to a very conservative family. She is the maternal granddaughter of late parliamentarian Ghulam Haider Bharwana. She was elected an MNA in 2002, 2008 and 2013 elections. She is again a likely candidate for NA-115. Saima Akhtar Bharwana hails from Shorkot and was elected an MNA from a general seat in the 2002 and 2008 elections defeating Sahibzada Nazir Sultan. She is likely to contest the election for NA-116 in the upcoming election.

Rashida Yaqoob came into politics after her husband, former MPA Sheikh Muhammad Yaqoob was disqualified. She contested the bye-election and was elected an MPA in the 2013 assembly. Later, she was also disqualified. Recently, she and her husband were allowed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to contest the election. She will be a candidate for an MPA seat.

A new addition to the district’s female politicians is Alisha Iftikhar. Her father Iftikhar Khan Baloch and grandfather Muhammad Khan Baloch both have been MPAs.

She also comes from a middle-class family. She is contesting the election after male members of the family have been disqualified to contest elections. Only time will tell if her debut election sends her to the assembly or not.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2018