PESHAWAR: Call it political expediency or gender discrimination in politics, practically all political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have shied away from fielding women candidates on general seats in their strongholds for the upcoming general elections.

More than 100 women candidates, including dozens of independents, are in the running for the national and provincial assembly seats.

The Election Commission of Pakistan’s lists of returning candidates - also called Form 33 - show that a total of 26 and 70 women were vying for the national and provincial assembly seats respectively.

A total of 13 women are in the electoral fray for NA seats from across the province as independents, while a similar number were contesting elections on party tickets. Similarly, for the PA seats 26 women were contesting elections as independents while others have been fielded by the various political parties.

Nominate them in constituencies with ‘little or no’ support

However, contests for only two seats, one NA and another PA in the provincial capital, stand out, where Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Awami National Party (ANP) have fielded women candidates.

PTI-backed candidate Shandana Gulzar Khan is in the running for the NA-30, Peshawar-III ticket. Ms Gulzar who became a PTI MNA on reserved seat in 2018 is the daughter of former bureaucrat Gulzar Khan. Her father was also elected MNA on the PTI ticket in 2013.

On Feb 8, she will face Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) candidate Nasir Khan Musazai. Mr Musazai was elected MNA on the PTI ticket from the same constituency in 2018 and later jumped ship.

Similarly, ANP has allotted a general ticket for the provincial assembly constituency PK 83, Peshawar-VII to Samar Haroon Bilour. Ms Samar husband Haroon Bilour, son of ANP’s stalwart Bashir Ahmed Bilour, was killed in a suicide attack on a campaign rally in the lead up to 2018 general elections. After her husband’s death, Ms Samar contested by-elections for the PK 78 constituency and defeated the PTI candidate.

On Feb 8, she will facePTI-backed independent Meena Khan and Pakistan Peoples Party’s Syed Zahir Ali Shah.

Dr Savera Parkash, a woman minority candidate, who is contesting for PK-25 Buner-I on the PPP ticket, has grabbed headlines. A medical doctor by profession, she is the first woman minority candidate who is contesting elections on the general seat. Her candidacy has grabbed media headlines.

Since political parties are bound by the Elections Act to ensure five per cent representation of women candidates on general seats, majority of them have, in order to meet the legal obligations, have allotted tickets to women candidates in constituencies where they have “little or no” support at all.

“A political party shall make the selection of candidates for elective offices, including membership of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) and Provincial Assemblies, through a transparent and democratic procedure and while making the selection of candidates on general seats shall ensure at least five per cent representation of women candidates,” declares Section 206 of the Elections Act, 2017.

On the NA seats, PTI has fielded 45 candidates from the province and only one of them is a woman.

On the PA seats, PTI has fielded five woman candidates among 115 candidates. Two of tickets have been allotted to women to contest elections from Kohistan, while another one each from Torghar, Upper Chitral and Dera Ismail Khan.

Since Kohistan and to some extent Torghar politics is dominated by electables’ and political parties have little ground here and therefore, these districts fell out of what constitutes the PTI’s strongholds.

Similarly, ANP has also allotted the election ticket for the NA-1 Chitral ticket to Khadija Sardar, who happens to be the only woman among 32 NA candidates fielded by the party.

On other hand, the party has fielded 95 general tickets for the PA seats and three of four candidates it has nominated are contesting elections from Abbottabad and Haripur, where the party has little to no presence.

Only Samar Haroon Bilour has been awarded the election ticket from Peshawar.

Similarly, the PML-N has fielded 41 NA candidates from the province and three of them are women. Sobia Shahid, a former MPA elected on reserved seat, has been given party tickets for the NA-29 and 31 tickets from Peshawar, while another woman has allotted the ticket for the NA-24 Charsadda.

On PA seats, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party has awarded 106 tickets and four among them are women. The party that has traditionally its power base in Hazara division has allotted one ticket each in Peshawar, Charsadda and Tank. The only ticket it has awarded in Hazara is forShaista Khan, who is in the running for the PK-46, Haripur-1, constituency.

The JUI-F has awarded 43 tickets for the NA seats. However, none among them is a woman. On the PA seats, this party has allotted tickets to three women on general seats, including one each in Mansehra, Abbottabad and Haripur.

PPP on the other hand has nominated three NA candidates, one each from Charsadda, Karak and Bannu while five others for PA constituencies from Buner, Mansehra, Haripur, Swabi and Mardan.

Besides, JI has also not awarded an NA ticket to any women while out of five women contesting for the PA seats, three tickets have been allotted in Kohat district while one each from Nowshera and Dera Ismail Khan district.

Saima Munir, a woman rights activist, told Dawn that those nominations by political parties were token representation and showed their dishonesty.

She said that when it came to women, all parties, whether they were rightists, leftists or centrists, were on the same page.

Ms Munir said that one could ask political parties about when they won the constituency last time where they had fielded women candidates.

She said that political parties had done the same in 2018.

The activist said that political parties gave the undertaking about fielding five per cent of women to the ECP on a Rs50 stamp paper – a practice that showed the ECP’s weakness.

“These days, even a transaction of Rs1 million is underwritten on a stamp paper of Rs1,000,” she said.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2024

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