The majority of the women elected to the last Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on reserved seats have applied for tickets of their respective parties for the upcoming elections — but many feel the political culture is still not favourable for them.
“Almost all women, who were part of the previous provincial assembly, have applied for the party tickets for direct election. I think it is a good sign,” said Shazia Tehmas, former Pakistan People's Party MPA, who has also applied for party ticket for the upcoming elections.
She admitted that there were problems for women politicians to be as active as men due to social and political hurdles but they still seemed optimistic.
Ms Tehmas said the women, who had gained experience as MPAs on reserved seats in the last five years, were desirous of contesting elections if their political party supported them.
The 22 women MPAs on reserved seats in the 124-strong House have found courage to apply for party tickets. Whether their respective political parties (with mostly male office-bearers) also show confidence in them will soon be evident when political parties award tickets for the upcoming elections.
Musarrat Shafi, a former MPA from Kohat and a lawyer by profession, said lack of political awareness among voters, political and financial position of candidates and the common perception that men can resolve problems of voters in Hujras and canvass from door to door, discouraged women from contesting elections.
She said these were the reasons why voters and even political parties did not support women candidates.
“We have proposed to our party to allocate 10 per cent quota for women on winnable seats to help them contest direct elections,” said Ms Shafi.
The rights activists, along with the 33 per cent reserved seats for women, have also been demanding a 10 per cent quota in open or general seats for women so that they can enter mainstream politics.
The former MPA also felt that women, who had been MPAs on reserved seats, did not have as much of a free hand to do service for their hometowns as the entire country was their constituency.
Zarka Bibi, former MPA of JUI-F from Nowshera, frankly said they felt discrimination in the House just because they were not elected like other members.
“Women should take part in elections and get elected directly but they don't have money and resources, which are needed to win elections,” she said while pointing out the problems in the prevailing political culture, which was why women politicians hesitated in taking part in general elections.
Women MPAs from the opposition said their prime responsibility was legislation but they tabled resolutions regarding rights of women and children.
“Being a member of the opposition benches and then a woman MPA on reserved seat, all that we got was taunts from the other members that we were not elected for the job like them,” said a former MPA.
Except for a few women politicians from leading political parties, the majority of workers associated with different parties have never made it to key positions.
The former women MPAs said they often found it hard as lawmakers on reserved seats to solve the problems of women from their own constituencies. Despite having a strong desire to change the fate of women in their respective areas, they felt they had to go a long way to make way in the political hierarchy.