Claiming women’s political participation in the future was at risk, female political leaders and former MPAs say society has yet to accept women in politics.
These comments were made during a Women’s Initiative for Learning and Leadership (WILL) forum in Peshawar, jointly organised by Search for Common Ground (SFGC) Pakistan and PAIMAN Alumni Trust. The programme is part of a nationwide campaign to celebrate the struggles and achievements of female political leaders.
Participants at the forum argued all political parties should acknowledge the contribution and dedication of female political leaders in the 2013 elections, and should give equal representation to them in key positions at provincial and federal levels. They also unanimously proposed voter education for future elections.
Attendees articulated a strong need for women’s political caucuses in provincial assemblies and endorsed their formation in order to provide regional political platforms.
They posited women had the potential to lead political parties and the country had produced such leaders in the past. They also expressed the need for female political workers to be encouraged and given the opportunity to come forward and take part in the elections.
SFCG Pakistan Executive Director Ammara Durrani said around 150 women contested National Assembly seats – of which only 36 were awarded party tickets. She added 313 women contested the elections at the provincial level out of which only 155 did so on a party’s platform.
“Political parties should acknowledge the will and determination of these women. In spite of terrorist threats, they contested for public offices with or without party tickets,” Durrani pointed out. “Parties must allocate more general and reserved seats to women in future.”
“I received threats on the phone and was told to boycott the elections,” shared Riffat Begum, who contested as an independent candidate from PK-23 Mardan. “My defeat in the general elections is also my success in fighting an environment which is tilted against women’s political participation.”
Ex-MPA Yasmin Zia alleged the polls in her constituency in Lakki Marwat were manipulated. Women voters were kept waiting by election officials who were trying to discourage them from casting their votes, claimed Zia.
“In certain cases, they (women voters) were told their vote was not registered. I wrote to the Election Commission of Pakistan and mentioned the names of the persons involved in these activities but received no response,” explained the former MPA.
PML-N provincial coordinator Naseem Riaz argued women related issues were given limited focus.
Referring to an area in Peshawar adjacent to Khyber Agency, Riaz said a militant commander there had issued warnings ahead of Election Day. “He said women who voted would have their thumbs cut off.”
The event was attended by ANP Mardan Vice President Aftab Munawar and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl incumbent MPA Uzma Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2013.