Those who have been struggling for gender equality won’t have to wait for the election results to put on their party hats. In the heat of this election season, some gender stereotypes have melted away.
Two Baloch women, who are in the running for seats in Karachi, have started to make ripples, shattering the perception that females from their community can’t participate in the public sphere.
Naz Baloch’s nomination as a candidate for a National Assembly seat has thrilled the Baloch women of her locality. “They are overwhelmed that a Baloch – and that too a woman – is contesting. They keep asking me to hold meetings in their houses and do all my political work there,” says the ebullient Naz, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) candidate for NA-240 which includes Baldia and Shershah.
The animated 32-year-old can’t help but beam as she tells The Express Tribune that she is the only woman in her family to have marched into the political arena. Growing up, Naz kept an eye on Benazir Bhutto, the first elected female head of government in the Muslim world. “I liked Benazir Bhutto. She was a lady of substance but unfortunately she couldn’t deliver much.”
Her father, Abdullah Baloch, a Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) loyalist who has now been awarded the party’s ticket for PS-92, would often invite Nusrat Bhutto and Murtaza Bhutto over for lunch and dinner. Despite this, she was never interested in joining PPP. When she decided to join PTI two years ago, her father was taken aback. “But being democratic, he understood my right and allowed me to follow my path.”
Naz went on to become the information secretary of PTI’s women’s wing, working her way up to eventually become its head. After the recent intra-party elections, she became PTI’s central vice president.
As the slogan ‘Naya jazba, nai soch, Naz Baloch, Naz Baloch’ echo in the area, Naz coolly declares that she’s more than willing to step into no-go areas to muster support, shattering yet another gender stereotype. “Since the government has not provided security, I recite prayers and leave everything to God.”
Lyari’s hopeful Wonder Woman
Another Baloch woman contesting for the elections is Saniya Naz, a PPP candidate vying for PS-109 – the seat labelled by some as ‘the heart of Lyari’. The constituency, which includes Chakiwara and Kalri, has around 150,000 voters. Like Naz, the nomination of this self-styled ‘awami numainda’ (representative of the people) has dispelled stereotypical images of Baloch women as reclusive, conservative and unwilling to venture outside their homes.
“Baloch women are liberal. Those who say that our women are not allowed to work are wrong,” says Saniya as she stares at her elections banners which have been put up at the Lyari Resource Centre, where she is part of the management committee. Just like in the banner, Saniya is dressed in black clothes. A chadder covers her head and the most radiant smile spreads across her face.
“I have lived my entire life in Lyari. I am not like Nabil Gabol, Rafique Engineer and other former parliamentarians who never lived in Lyari or visited it,” says the lively and energetic woman. Uzair Baloch, the leader of the Peoples Amn Committee, handpicked her to run for the constituency, initially shocking her.
“My focus is on education. I want to continue my education,” says Saniya, adding that one of her sisters is studying to become a doctor. She also wants to do something for sportsmen of the area – all the footballers and boxers who are being neglected. She aspires to be a health minister, improve health facilities in Lyari and also lend a hand to women entrepreneurs starting up small businesses. “I will become mohatarma of Lyari. I will become like Shaheed Benazir.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2013.