ISLAMABAD: The majority of the political parties appear to be treating the mandatory five per cent women ticket quota on general seats as a formality—a treatment similar for the women reserved seats in the country’s legislative houses.
Among 11,885 candidates in the run for the July 25 general elections for the National and four Provincial Assemblies, there are 5,768 ticket holders of almost 94 political parties. There are only 305 female candidates, which is barely 5.2 per cent of the total ticket holders contesting from political parties.
Almost 45 per cent political parties participating in the upcoming elections have not fielded a single female candidate. Many others have not awarded tickets to the required numbers proportionate to male candidates.
It has been made mandatory in the new election laws passed by the Parliament last year that political parties must allocate at least five per cent tickets to women on directly elected or general seats . This is in addition to the seats reserved for women in the legislatures.
Data of the women candidates contesting as independent candidates is yet to be compiled by the polls supervisory body. The provision was inculcated in the new election laws with an aim to encourage women participation in the political process.
Before the upcoming elections, very few women had been participating on directly elected seats. The percentage of women winning on general seats has also been abysmally low and those who eventually won, usually belonged to affluent and politically influential class.
Except a few, most of these women had been fielded in the contest in case the male member of their family was not able to contest elections for one reason or the other.
Pakistan had its first direct elections in 1970. There was no quota of reserved seats for women in the polls in 1970 elections. Nine women contested on general seats and none of them could win a seat, according to a research conducted by Heinrich Boll Stiftung, a German foundation on history of women representation in politics.
There were no women representation in the National Assembly, which later passed the 1973 Constitution after the East and West Pakistan disintegrated into two separate countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
To encourage women representation in the National Assembly, 10 reserved seats for women were introduced from 1977 election through a sunset clause in the Constitution. The clause required that reserved seats be abolished after 10 years or three electoral cycles.
In 1977 elections for the 216-member National Assembly, only one woman contested on general seats and she won. Another 10 returned to the National Assembly through reserved seats. They constituted 5.1 per cent women strength in the house.
The women reserved seats in NA were increased to 20 in 1985 in the non-party based elections organized by military regime of General Ziaul Haq. Another 15 women contested on general seats and only one could win, making women strength to 21 or 8.9 per cent of the total strength in the 237-member House.
In 1988 general elections, 16 women contested on the general seats. Three of them, including Benazir Bhutto who was elected first women prime minister of the country won. Accumulated strength of women in the 237-member National Assembly was 23, which accounted for 9.7 per cent of the total strength of the house.
On the expiry of sun-set clause after the three electoral cycles–1979, 1985 and 1988, quota of the reserved seats for women stood abolished. Twelve women contested elections on general seats in 1990 general elections for the National Assembly. Only two of them could win the polls. This reduced the women representation in the National Assembly to only 0.9 per cent of 217-member house.
In 1993 general elections, 14 women participated on general seats and only four stood victorious. They constituted 1.8 per cent of the total strength of the House. Similarly, in 1997 general elections, 35 women participated on general seats and five won.
After 1999 military coup, General Pervez Musharraf reintroduced 60 reserved seats for women in the National Assembly by amending the Constitution through what was tagged Legal Framework Order. In the general elections held in 2002, 57 women contested on general seats and 13 of them won. With 60 reserved seats, the National Assembly had 74 women members, which was 21.6 per cent of the present 342-member house.
In 2008 general elections, 64 women contested on general seats out of which a record 16 won. With 60 reserved seats, 76 women were part of National Assembly constituting 22.2 per cent of the total membership of the house.
In 2013 general elections, out of the 161 women contesting on general seats for the lower house of parliament, only nine would win. This reduced women strength to 70 or 20.5 per cent in the National Assembly that completed its five year term on May 31 this year.
Out of the 107 political parties enlisted with the ECP, 94 are participating in this month’s elections. These parties have fielded 5,768 candidates out of which there are only 305 female candidates.
Interestingly, 44 parties contesting the polls have not fielded even a single female candidate despite mandatory law provision. The ECP allotted all these parties election symbols in violation of law, rules and tall claims. The data of the women contesting as independent candidates is yet to be compiled by the election authorities.
Amongst the mainstream political parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) awarded an overall 5.7 per cent tickets, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) 6.2 per cent, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) 5.1 per cent, Awami National Party 6.9 per cent, MMA 5.3 per cent and Pak Sarzameen Party awarded 7.5 tickets to women candidates on general seats.
A glance at patterns of the allotment of tickets to women by political parties shows that in most cases, the allocation of five per cent women tickets was treated as not more than a formality. This trend is more prevalent in nationalist and religious parties. Most of their women tickets were given just to fulfil the quota requirements. They issued tickets to women candidates in constituencies where they are weak.
Similarly, the mainstream parties awarded tickets to some diehard women political activists who are active in the local politics. They have also distributed tickets to women in constituencies from where these parties have no hope to win.
PPP that espouses women empowerment more than any other party, awarded tickets to Wazir un Nisa in NA-69 Gujrat , Nargis Faiz Malik in NA-74 Sialkot and Sumera Gul in NA-62 Rawalpindi. PPP has also awarded ticket to Mehreen Anwar Raja from NA-57 Rawalpindi against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. These are the constituencies where PPP has hardly any hope to win in the elections.
The party has also awarded ticket of NA-35 Bannu to a female candidate Yasmin Safdar. The statistics of 2002, 2008 and 2013 general elections show that PPP had never won from this constituency. Natasha Daultana of PPP is contesting in NA-163 Vehari and is expected to have a good contest in the constituency. In Lahore the only seat where PPP is expecting good result is NA-132 where it has fielded Samina Khalid Ghurki. Similarly, Shazia Marri is contesting from NA-216 Sanghar and Dr Nafisa Shah from NA-208 Khairpur. These constituencies are strongholds of PPP. However, all of these women contestants have an influential political family background.
PTI has fielded two women candidates Tehmina Dasti from NA 182 and Zohra Bukhari from NA 184 in Muzzafargarh district in South Punjab. It has also awarded ticket to Khadija Amir in NA 173 Bahawalpur. Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan is contesting this time on PTI ticket from NA-72 Sialkot. These women candidates of PTI have strong family background.
Imran Khan’s party has fielded Zartaj Gul from NA-191 DG Khan where the PML-N heavyweight Sardar Awais Leghari is contesting. She belongs to non-traditional political elite and has an educated middle class background. She is challenging traditional feudal elite, the Legahri Sardars of D G Khan who have been dominating the politics of their area since pre-partition times.
Dr Yasmeen Rashid is contesting NA-125 Lahore. She represents urban middle class professional face of women of PTI in Lahore. PTI at the same time has awarded ticket to Qurat ul Ain in NA-201 Larkana, Haleema Bhutto in NA-200 Larkana, Ghazala Hussain in NA-211 Noushero Feroz, Nargis Naz in NA-223 Matiari in Sindh. These are the constituencies where Imran Khan’s party has hardly any chances to win.
Former ruling party PML-N has awarded ticket to an experienced woman politician Tehmina Daultana in NA-164 Vehari. She has a strong family political background and has won elections several times.
Mehnaz Aziz, wife of Danyal Aziz who has been disqualified as a result of a Supreme Court verdict in contempt of court case, has been accommodated in NA-77 Narowal by the party. Other PML-N women candidates Saira Afzal Tarar from NA-87, Sumaira Malik in NA-93 Khushab and Shazra Mansab in NA-118 Sheikhupura also belong to traditional political elite.
PML-N has awarded party ticket to Raheela Durrani in NA-265 Quetta and Neelam Kumari in NA-220 Umar Kot. It has also awarded ticket Sobia Shahid in NA-7 Lower Dir- (previously NA-34) from where Qazi Hussain Ahmad of MMA has won election in 2002, Malak Azma Khan of PPP won in 2008 and Shahibzada Muhammad Yaqub of JI won in 2013. It has fielded another women candidate Sobia from NA-27 Peshwar against PTI heavy weight Nor Alam Khan.
ANP has awarded ticket of NA-13 Mansehra (previously NA-20) to Ifat Kalsoom from where ANP has never won. Sardar Shahjehan Yousaf (PML-Q) won election in 2002 and Sardar Mohammad Yousaf of PML-N in 2013 from this constituency.
This also shows that mainstream political parties have accommodated most women candidates in provinces and constituencies where they were weak. With these trends in the upcoming elections and despite desultory efforts to increase women representation in the parliament, it is clear that the country is far from achieving real emancipation and equal rights for the women.
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