A crucial legislation by parliament for the first time paved the way for women to jump into the electoral fray in a large number both as voters and candidates in July 25 general elections and play a role in the decision-making process in the power corridors.
However, no woman candidate could achieve much or win any seat in Mansehra district, which has two National Assembly and five provincial assembly constituencies.
Section 206 of Election Act 2017, which makes it mandatory for the political parties to award five per cent of election tickets to women candidates for the National Assembly and provincial assembly constituencies, provided an opportunity to women to join the list of aspirants in general elections, but ironically they couldn’t secure a reasonable number of votes.
It is also mandatory under the Election Act 2017 that every constituency would have at least 10 per cent of women’s votes polled otherwise elections would be declared null and void and re-polling would be held there.
“I appreciate the Election Act 2017, which enhanced participation of women in electoral process as candidates, but political parties didn’t take it as a positive sign to bring out women for electioneering,” said Ambreen Swati, who is regional general secretary of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s women wing in Hazara.
She said that nobody could believe that political parties fielded two women contenders in the highly conservative Kohistan district, but it was eyewash just to meet the 5 per cent quota which was mandatory under the Election Act 2017.
“In such a situation where male dominance is everywhere how could women sail independently to achieve targets even in elections as contender,” said Ms Swati.
The constituency-wise analysis of the two National Assembly and five provincial assembly constituencies in the district showed a bleak picture of the state of women affairs in the July 25 general elections.
In NA-13, two women contenders Ambreen Swati and Iffat Kulsoom were in the running, but both could secure 558 votes only. Ms Kulsoom, who was contesting on the Awami National Party ticket, could secure only 183 votes and Ms Swati 375 votes.
In this constituency, a total of 526,974 votes, including 230,161 of women, are registered, but here 100,246 women turned up at the polling stations. The overall turnout in this rural-cum urban constituency was 50 per cent.
In NA-14, Mansehra-cum-Torghar, no woman contested the election. A total of 510,931 voters, including 225,011 women, are registered here, but only 83,983 women could show up at the polling stations to exercise their right to vote. In this constituency, the overall turnout stood at 41 per cent.
Same is the case with the five provincial assembly constituencies in the district where hardly 35 per cent of women voters cast their votes.
In PK-30, a female candidate Maria Fatima contested the election on Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf ticket, but she could secure 1,025 votes where a total of 82,365 votes of this marginalised segment of society are registered and of them 37,537 exercised their right to vote.
In PK-31 no woman was in the contest. However, not only this constituency, but the district for the first time witnessed a transgender contesting an election. Maria Khan could secure only 536 votes. In this urban-cum-rural constituency, a total of 154,368 voters, including 70,516 women, are registered and 29,353 could show up at the polling stations to exercise right to vote.
The overall turnout in this constituency stood at 50 per cent, which is slightly higher than rest of provincial assembly’s constituencies in the district.
In PK-32, there was no female contender where a total of 193,340 voters, including 85,948 women, are registered. Here 37,265 women cast their votes and the overall turnout was 48 per cent.
In PK-33, which is spread over rural parts of the district, there was no woman contesting the polls. Here a total of 192,630 voters, including 85,057 women, are registered. In this constituency, the overall turnout stood at 38 per cent, which is the lowest in the district.
Zahida Sabeel of PTI was the only female candidate in PK-34 who could secure 3,519 votes only. In this constituency, a total of 214,772 voters, including 92,485 women, are registered, but only 35,813 women exercised their right to vote. The overall turnout in this constituency stood at 48 per cent.
Maria Khan, the only transgender person who contested election from here, said that people still discriminated against them and this was also a big hurdle in the way of her election. “I am a ray of hope for my community as I stood up in the society where we are not being accepted even as human beings and now our people could jump into an electoral process without any hesitation,” she said.
Maria said that four transgender persons contested the July 25 elections across country, and she secured the highest number of votes (536) among them. “I was not given a level-playing field by the society because of my sex identity as well as my rivals. But I remained committed to facing all the odds,” she said.
According to district election commissioner, Mansehra, Aziz Bahadar, the Election Commission of Pakistan took all possible measures to bring women into the political mainstream. However, he said that the election process was not a unilateral process to achieve the desired results.
“We focused on areas where voter registration ratio of women was below 40 per cent and we enhanced it significantly before the elections, but it seems political parties fielded women candidates merely to meet the election commission’s requirement of 5 per cent representation of women,” said Mr Bahadar.
He said that it would take time for women to adjust to election politics as competing men and winning elections is still an uphill task for them.
“I think there is a need for creating awareness of mainstream politics and electioneering process among women to achieve the desired results as through fresh legislation the election commission provided them a platform to avail of the 5 per cent quota provided by the political parties,” said Mr Bahadar.
Former PTI general secretary of Hazara region, Sajid Mumtaz, said that the steps taken by the ECP were encouraging. “If women would not join the mainstream politics the imbalance would remain. We appreciate the ECP for its initiatives, but political parties should come forward to achieve the goal of women’s participation,” he said.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2018