Minority women on a mission to break the electoral ceiling

KARACHI    : Social worker and political activist, Nomi Bashir, goes door to door to campaign for the upcoming elections. The independent candidate has no police protection or security protocol by her side.

Born and raised in Mehmoodabad, Nomi is contesting as an independent candidate from NA-244, campaigning for what she believes needs to change in her constituency.

“I was born and raised in this locality,” she told The Express Tribune. “Who can better understand the issues of my area than a grassroots activist like me?” she questioned rhetorically.

For Bashir, her constituency is plagued by a myriad of issues, not least of which is the acute shortage of water that has gripped the entire city. “There is no water, we don’t have proper roads and our education system is completely flawed,” she said.

Can vote, won’t vote

One question that keeps following her at almost every door she knocks is to do with her faith. “Why should we vote for a Christian, when we’ve our own Muslim candidates?” people often ask her. “I am contesting the elections, not as a candidate for the Christian community, but to serve everyone, regardless of their race, religion or creed,”

Of late, she and her supporters have even been threatened by opponents. “Our political workers are being threatened. Our posters are torn apart,” she told The Express Tribune. “In some areas, we are not even allowed to campaign freely or open our election offices,” she added.

But Bashir is not losing hope just yet. “I believe people shouldn’t do politics on the basis of religion,” she said. “Politicians should be elected on the basis of their competency.”

Dalit activist and independent candidate Radha Bheel, contesting from PS-48, spoke about the woes faced by the scheduled caste or Dalit Hindu women in rural Sindh. “Being a Dalit, woman and poor is a curse in Sindh,” she lamented.

“We are warned not to campaign in certain areas because our lives may be at risk,” Radha told The Express Tribune. “We are pressurised by the upper caste Hindu landowners to back off from the elections; just because they can’t see Dalit women stand up against them,” she added.

Simply contesting the election is a huge challenge, said Radha, requesting the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to make the elections affordable for all. “Just look at how the voters’ registration list is issued, it would cost me around Rs60,000 to get it printed and for many of us, it’s a luxury we can’t afford.”

Housewife Leela Lohar, while talking to The Express Tribune, concurred with Bheel. Lohar, who sells bangles from her house to generate additional income, is also a member of the Dalit Hindu community and is contesting the elections independently for NA-218.

“In order to get ourselves registered, we must pay around Rs20,000 for a PS seat and Rs30,000 for an NA seat. Many of us live a very meagre existence; this election is beyond our reach,” she lamented. “If the government is really interested in promoting democracy, these fees must be reduced, but it seems that we are only interested in favouring the rich feudal landlords and the capitalists in Sindh,” she added.

Human rights activist Seema Maheshwary has made considerable efforts to highlight the plight of minority women in Sindh.

“For the first time in the history of Pakistan, around ten minority women are contesting in the general elections – five from Karachi and five from rural Sindh – this is positive news and we must praise these brave women for their bravery and struggle,” she told The Express Tribune.

Only 1,456 transgender listed from 97.02 million voters in electoral rolls

Maheshwary pointed out that though all parties were required to meet the mandatory five per cent requirement for female candidates, “When it comes to the nomination of candidates on reserved seats for minorities, mostly men are nominated.”

The minority female candidates awarded tickets by parties including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Neelam Walji for NA-220, Umerkot and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s Mangla Sharma for PS-113, Karachi and Sofia Yaqoob of the Awami National Party for NA-256, Karachi.

Others contesting independently include Leela Lohar for NA-218, Mirpurkhas-I, Radha Bheel for PS-48, Mirpurkhas-II, Sunita Parmar for PS-56, Umerkot, Nomi Bashir for NA-244, Karachi and Samina Nawab for NA-252, Karachi).

“We are receiving reports of many women candidates, who are being discriminated and even threatened on the basis of their gender and religion but despite the challenges we see these brave women campaigning for change,” she said.

They will work in Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Quetta

  • Pakistan’s transgenders: Marginalised but hopeful

    'We will definitely cast votes'

  • No Christian candidate in the PML-N election force

    Minority wing leader says they were told to wait till next general elections 

    More in Pakistan

    Original news : https://tribune.com.pk/story/1765155/1-minority-women-mission-break-electoral-ceiling/