Tahira Bukhari, a former member of the National Assembly who contested in the 2018 general elections for NA-23 Peshawar and has held a specific seat in the assembly for 10 years, emphasized the marginalization of women members who cannot secure a place through general elections. She highlighted that these women lack individual identity, constituencies, and funds, often relegated to mere symbolic roles.
Bukhari expressed her frustration, stating that despite women’s significant contributions and services across the province, they are not accorded due status, importance, or value in the assembly. According to her, elected representatives through general elections are deemed the only legitimate Members of Provincial Assembly (MPAs), enjoying the associated benefits such as funds and privileges.
She argued that women if given the necessary resources, have the potential to emerge as exemplary politicians and effectively address the issues within their constituencies. By providing women with funds, they can actively engage in constituency development, ultimately enhancing their chances of success in elections. In Bukhari’s view, empowering women financially will not only recognize their capabilities but also contribute to a more equitable and effective political landscape.
Gender Inequality Persists in General Seat Distribution
The distribution of general seat tickets during general elections perpetuates gender inequality, deviating from principles of gender parity. Many women activists are denied tickets, and forced into becoming members on special occasions against their will. Despite a significant number of women aspiring to participate in general elections, historical data reveals that only those with a political background or a significant vote bank managed to secure seats. Women activists often find themselves overlooked by political parties.
In 2017, electoral reform legislation mandated political parties to allocate at least five percent of tickets to women in general elections. However, despite this requirement, the 2018 elections saw major political parties depriving women of their rightful share of tickets. The total seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly amount to 145, with 26 reserved for women and 6 for minorities. Unfortunately, women could only secure seats on specified allocations, and only a handful emerged victorious in the general elections. Notably, those who did win were often women with a pre-established political background.
Reflecting on historical instances, in the 1988 general elections, Begum Naseem Wali Khan, leveraging her political background, vote bank in Charsadda, and family name, secured a seat in the assembly. Similarly, in the 2013 elections, the death of Qaumi Watan Party candidate Habib-ur-Rehman Tanoli before the polls led to his daughter, Ghazala Habib, contesting and winning a seat in Abbottabad. The tragic demise of Awami National Party leader Haroon Bilour during the 2018 election campaign resulted in his housewife wife contesting his seat and becoming a part of the provincial assembly.
Women Candidates in the 2018 General Elections
In the 2018 general elections, a total of 42 women contested as candidates from political parties and as independents, vying for 29 Provincial Assembly seats and 15 National Assembly seats, as per data from the Election Commission. Notably, Ali Begum Khan from NA-46 Tribal Areas (Vii) Karam district was among the contenders.
Pakistan Muslim League (N) fielded eight women from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who contested across Peshawar, Dir, Charsadda, Kohat, and Dera Ismail Khan. The candidates included five for the Provincial Assembly and three for the National Assembly. Former Member of National Assembly Tahira Bukhari contested for NA-23 Peshawar, while former MPA Sobia Shahid participated in NA-27 Peshawar and again in NA-7 Dir, where she faced MMA candidate Siraj-ul-Haq. Other contenders included Khurshid Bibi from PK 98 Dera Ismail Khan, Farrukh Khan from PK 60 Charsadda, Sumaira from PK 58 Charsadda, and Jamila Paracha from PK 80 and 82 Kohat.
The Awami National Party allocated five tickets for women in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and one for the National Assembly in the same elections. Six women from Abbottabad and Haripur, including Iram Fatima, Rubina Zahid, Rukhsana Bibi, Bibi Shehnaz Raja, Farzana Shaheen, and Saira Syed, were fielded as candidates.
Ayesha Gulalai, the head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Gulalai, made a noteworthy participation, contesting elections for four National Assembly constituencies simultaneously from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad, Punjab, and Sindh. While other parties like Muslim League (Q), Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), PSP, and Pakistan Justice and Democratic Party had one woman each contesting, none were elected as assembly members. It’s important to note that these women competed against established political leaders with their own political backgrounds and vote banks.
Conversely, many well-aware women members of various political parties, including Anisa Zeb, Dr. Mehr Taj Roghani, Zareen Zia, Miraj Humayun, Shaughta Malik, Nighat Orakzai, Uzma Khan, and Dina Naz, were denied general seat tickets despite their strong potential for victory.
Women Candidates in Tribal Districts
Following the 2019 merger of former tribal districts into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Jamiat Ulema Islam Fazlur Rahman group assigned the general seat ticket for Khyber district to Surraya Bibi from the Christian community. Simultaneously, the Awami National Party granted the ticket to Naheed Afridi for constituency PK 106 Khyber 2, and in PK 109 Karam 2, a female candidate named Malasa contested the election on the ticket of Jamaat-e-Islami. This came after Ali Begum Khan’s previous participation in the general elections from the NA-46 tribal district of Kurram.
Women Activist Candidates in Historical Perspective
In the 2018 general elections, 105 women contested on party tickets, while 66 women ran as independents. Comparatively, during the 2013 general elections, 135 women contested as independents, and 74 women contested on party tickets. Similarly, in the 2008 elections, a total of 72 women participated, with 41 contesting on party tickets and 3 as independents.
Qamar Naseem, the head of Blue Vans, an organization focused on women’s participation in elections, pointed out that political parties seem reluctant to genuinely bring women into the political scene. Women activists, lacking financial means to cover election expenses, often find themselves left behind. Naseem emphasized the need for political parties to invest in training women, ensuring they represent half of the country’s population effectively, while the Election Commission should consistently monitor these efforts.
Shazia Noreen, a female voter and school teacher, advocated for women to be given significant positions in political parties and receive tickets for winning seats. This, she believes, would enable women to play a more authentic political role by reaching legislative bodies.