The women’s vote
As analysts begin to pick over the still-evolving results of the 2013 general elections, there is one aspect that already stands out and will bear very careful future attention – the women voters of the nation. And not just women voters, but women candidates as well. Two were of particular note, and neither had much by way of previous political experience. They were threatened and ridiculed and neither won their seat, but the point is that they participated and canvassed door-to-door – proving that their gender is not a barrier to an active political life. One candidate came from the tribal areas, the other was a widowed peasant mother of many from the rural hinterlands. Women make up about half the population of Pakistan but have been socially, politically and culturally marginalised for the entire life of the country.
These elections may be the point at which women have finally found electoral confidence and gone out to vote, many for the first time. They came out not just in Punjab where women’s right to vote is less of an issue, but in places like the Mohmand Agency where for the first time they were able – allowed – to vote. Women were not so lucky in other places where mainstream political parties worked together to ensure they were denied their rights; the women of Swat and North Waziristan remain disenfranchised. There are 60 out of 342 reserved seats for women in the National Assembly, and women have taken part in politics since Partition. There were 161 women candidates seeking election in 2013, a 129.8 percent increase since the last election in 2008. Many come from elite backgrounds, and are used to power and privilege, but increasingly the women who stand for election are not from feudal or wealthy families. They are standing sometimes against deeply conservative figures. Mussarat Shaheen went up against Maulana Fazlur Rehman and lost, but her stand was noticed by the media as were many of the women who contested elections in an effort to break the mould. There is still a long way to go, but if these elections are any indicator then the women of Pakistan have put down a marker unlike any before.
Source: The News