Women’s Vote: Women’s Voice

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“There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.” Susan B. Anthony – 50 Shades of Feminism

Published at PakVotes on May 3rd 2013

Picture: Courtesy http://www.english.pakvotes.pk

None of the key issues Pakistani women face will ever find the right solutions unless women become an integral part of the democratic process that is gradually, but steadily, gaining strength in Pakistan – Not sexual and domestic violence, not equal pay, not an end to forced marriages, not bonded labor and not equitable access to financial resources.

The founding father of Pakistan, Jinnah famously said in 1944 that “No nation can rise to the heights of glory unless your women stand side by side with you”.  He understood that women had to mobilize if there was any chance his people would be able to hold their own through representative elections.

The truth in those words has only magnified with time. Seventy of Pakistan’s national legislators are to be elected on reserve women seats through proportional list representation. However, the trend for women contesting general elections on a regular constituency is picking up. More parties now have women candidates on regular seats, in addition to the list representation system, even though the overall number of women regular candidates has not increased.

Pakistan People’s Party has fielded 11 women candidates from general constituencies. This number is down from 15 in 2008. Good news is that MQM and PML-N have increased their numbers. MQM is fielding 7 candidates for the National Assembly seats, an improvement of two from 2008 when they fielded 5. In 2002, they fielded 4 women candidates.

PML N has also fielded 7 women candidates, whereas in 2008 they had fielded 6 women candidates, and in 2002 4 women candidates.  PML-Q’s number has gone down from 8 women candidates to 4 women candidates; though this may be because the number of seats they are contesting is lower than 2008. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has fielded four women candidates on national assembly seats.

Of course, these numbers don’t include the large number of independent women candidates on general seats. So all in all a small marginal increase has been noticed in the total number of women candidates.

In a male dominated society, even a woman’s vote can become an issue of course.  While cosmopolitan cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad have women active in all spheres of life bar none, their rural sisters in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan are denied the right to even vote at times.

Archaic cultural traditions, strangely out of step with modern realities, continue to drive the women down. Perhaps one way to remedy this, which a number of experts recommend, is to mandate that every party be required to award at least 30 percent of its general tickets to women, in addition to women reserve seats through proportional list representation.  This would not only break the male domination in the assembly but will also shake the whole biradari and clan based politics to the core.

Pakistan is at a very important juncture at this election, and women, if they come out and vote, will realize that the power they have is not just functionally effective in getting their choice candidates in place this once, but that it can have an corrective effect on the trajectory of the Pakistan that is now headed towards making it to the bottom of the global ranking of women’s participation in the workforce, maternal mortality rates and security for women.

Aisha Sarwari is a freelance writer for Daily Times, Dawn and The Friday Times, and has advised lead political parties on Gender Policy.

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