Being a woman myself, this blog post is rather close to my heart. I belong to the lot of fortunate urban women who can exercise their voting rights, however there are still many areas in Pakistan where women are either discouraged or out-rightly banned by the local communities from casting their votes. For quite a while now I’ve found myself complaining about women’s lack of participation in the voting process but most of my venting has been with close friends and family. However, I believe it’s about time that I stop preaching to the already converted and speak with everyone and anyone who’s interested in listening!
Now I understand that the 2013 General Elections showed some level of improvement, with a relatively higher female political participation. This is especially worth acknowledging because this higher level of women’s participation was despite terrorist threats and patriarchal opposition in certain remote areas.Women were also more actively involved politically, with more than 450 female candidates contesting for the seats in the National Assembly alone.
However, despite these improvements a lot more needs to be done before all Pakistani women can exercise their constitutional right of voting. Ironically, even today many political parties fall to the wishes of extremist and conservative forces when it comes to women’s political participation. We saw a glaring example of this in 2013 when the candidates of almost all the major political parties signed accords in the tribal regions barring women voters from casting votes or taking part in the political process!
This sort of behavior by political actors is unfathomable given the fact that under the devolution of power plan in 2000, the government reserved 33% seats at all tiers (national, provincial and local government) for women.
When given space and freedom to act, Pakistani women have always been a source of positive contribution in the political arena. Women parliamentarians have played a pivotal role in forming women-led caucuses and tabling key legislative bills. Furthermore, in Pakistan female politicians have held key offices such as former Prime Minister (Late) Benazir Bhutto who held the office from 1988 to 1990 and then from 1993 to 1996 being the first PM of any Muslim country. Similarly there are many female politicians from all the parties have held key positions. Equally important is the fact that the overwhelming presence of nearly 40,000 women in local councils since 2000 has contributed enormously towards mainstreaming women into politics.
In the same realm we must also acknowledge the efforts of Malala Yousufzai, young Pakistani activist for female education and youngest female Nobel laureate as well and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Pakistani journalist and filmmaker who became the first Pakistani to win an Oscar. While these young women are not politicians they nevertheless exhibit the immense potential that Pakistani women have and how they excel and make the whole country proud when given freedom to follow their passions and put their skills to practice.
I can’t emphasize enough that this is the right time to make a sincere effort in order to ensure the participation and freedom of the women in elections. Every little effort by you and me can really go a long, long way in empowering female voters in our country. So next time you want to indulge in some drawing discussion on local politics, are looking for a meaningful subject to tweet on or you’re planning on sending out a letter to your local newspaper’s editor, make sure that inclusion of female voters is among the topics that you discuss. A little effort from all of us is pivotal for bringing a big shift in women’s political role in Pakistan.