A Ticket to Lose: Unveiling the Gender Disparity In 2018 Elections

The complex dynamics of gender discrimination come to the forefront as CPDI officials point out the lack of seriousness towards women members within the existing political structure.

A Ticket to Lose: Unveiling the Gender Disparity In 2018 Elections

As the political landscape in Pakistan revs up with the anticipation of the upcoming general election in February 2024, a quiet but determined female member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) finds herself navigating the complexities of securing a party ticket. Her journey, like that of many other women in the country, sheds light on the challenges and barriers faced by women in Pakistani politics.

In a discreet visit to a private bank in Peshawar, she opened a fresh bank account, a symbolic step towards entering the political arena. However, uncertainty looms over her candidacy, as the party leadership grapples with internal issues, including the imprisonment of their leader, Imran Khan. Her hesitancy is not unfounded, considering the pervasive practice among political parties of awarding tickets to women in constituencies where victory seems elusive.

To promote women as candidates and voters, the Elections Act of 2017 included certain measures; nonetheless, these were essentially cosmetic interventions that did not guarantee women's true empowerment and engagement in the political and electoral spheres. For example, The Election Commission of Pakistan declared it mandatory that political parties ensure at least five percent representation of women candidates in the selection process for general seats. Failure to meet this requirement results in the denial of an election symbol.

The complex dynamics of gender discrimination come to the forefront as CPDI officials point out the lack of seriousness towards women members within the existing political structure.

This provision aims to encourage gender inclusivity in politics, but it has also led to complaints that parties are strategically placing female candidates in areas where success is doubtful.

In the most recent general elections, the three Mainstream political parties of Pakistan, the PTI, the PPP, and the PMLN barely met this requirement. The ECP website states that out of the 676 candidates the PMLN fielded throughout Pakistan, just 37 (5.47%) were female. Comparatively, PTI had 811 candidates, with only 42 women (5.18%), compared to PPP's 685 nominees, of which 43 were women (6.28%).

Total 38 women candidates from KP contested general elections on reserved seats from 31 different constituencies. The political parties from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa issued party tickets to 32 women while 07 women contested the election independently. In the general elections 2018, for Provincial Assembly no women won the election, no women stood as runner-up, and 03 got the third position in their constituencies. In the general election on July 25, none of the female candidates running for general seats from the major political parties emerged victorious, nor did they finish in second place in either the province or national constituencies. 

The two Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf candidates, however, were closely matched against their male rivals. With 10,904 votes, the PTI candidate from PK-10 Upper Dir, Hameeda Shahid, finished third in the contest. Saima Khalid, the other female PTI candidate from PK-42, received 10,337 votes, placing her fourth in the race. Naheed Bibi is the only female candidate who was contesting the elections 2019 on a general seat on ANP party ticket from tribal districts. Naheed Bibi contested elections on Awami National Party’s ticket from PK-106 Jmarud district Khyber where more than 19 other candidates were participating. Bilawal Afridi an Independent candidate won the election by getting  12814 votes while Naheed Bibi remained on nine number by getting 194 votes.

Qamar  Naseem, founder of Blue Veins, a women's rights organization in Peshawar, identifies the root of the issue as the system of indirect elections, where party tickets are awarded based on nepotism rather than merit. This practice not only hampers the democratic spirit but also acts as a barrier to entry, discouraging qualified and competent women from participating in politics.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Regional Vice President, Rabia Basri, emphasized that the party is committed to adhering to the rules set forth by the Election Commission in the allotment of party tickets. She highlighted that PTI is dedicated to promoting gender equality within its ranks, affirming that 5 percent of party tickets will be allocated to women. 

According to Basri, PTI stands out as a political entity that upholds principles of equality without discrimination against women. Responding to a query about the common practice among political parties to allocate tickets in constituencies where they may have minimal chances of success, Basri explained the rigorous process followed by PTI. She noted that candidates from every constituency submit their applications for party tickets. A meticulous scrutiny process takes place at the central level, where the central body of the party thoroughly examines the candidates' records. Ticket allocation, she explained, is based on a comprehensive assessment of the candidates' work, accomplishments, and the strength of their vote bank.

In response to the observation that fewer women tend to apply for general seats in elections, particularly due to the challenges involved, Basri acknowledged the difficulty of contesting elections on general seats, especially for women. She attributed the lower number of female applicants to the demanding nature of such endeavors. Basri shared that PTI is cognizant of these challenges and continues to encourage and support women in participating actively in the political process. The party remains steadfast in its commitment to providing equal opportunities to all its members, regardless of gender.

 The PTI stands out as a political entity that upholds principles of equality without discrimination against women

Samar Haroon Bilour, the Provincial Focal Person for the Awami National Party (ANP), asserted that the party is dedicated to ensuring equality without discrimination based on gender. According to Bilour, ANP goes beyond merely obeying a 5 percent women quota, instead, they actively seek out strong women candidates and allocate tickets to areas where they identify the presence of formidable female contenders.

Bilour shared a personal example of her electoral success, having contested and won in PK-28 Peshawar with a significant margin. Despite the party traditionally giving tickets in this area, she emphasized that ANP continues to prioritize merit and competence. Even in instances where female members of the party apply for candidacy in these areas, the party maintains a commitment to selecting candidates based on their qualifications and capabilities. Highlighting the broader participation of women within ANP, Bilour cited the local body elections where a substantial number of female candidates not only contested but emerged victorious with substantial margins. This, she argued, exemplifies the party's commitment to fostering an inclusive political environment and ensuring that women play an active and influential role in the democratic process.

Despite the challenges, Pakistani women continue to persevere, especially in regions where patriarchal norms are deeply ingrained. Recent local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa marked a historic moment as women from conservative constituencies contested and won general seats alongside reserved ones. However, this progress is tempered by the acknowledgment that much work remains to achieve equal representation for women in parliament. 

Kaiyinat Khan A women's Rights Activist in Peshawar, highlights problems with the nomination process and flaws in the election mechanism as contributing factors. She points to the denial of basic rights, economic dependency, and cultural taboos as persistent challenges that deter competent women from engaging in policymaking at the grassroots level.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly, with 145 elected members, illustrates the gender disparity, with 26 seats reserved for women. Shahida Akhtar, a former Member of the National Assembly from Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F), acknowledges the cultural factors influencing the treatment of male and female politicians. While her party acknowledges the importance of women in politics, she admits challenges in meeting the quota for women's representation.

A political leader from PTI in Mardan sheds light on the skepticism women face when running for elections. Public doubt regarding a woman's ability to move freely in public and lead in elections remains a prevalent sentiment. Women are often encouraged to participate in politics but predominantly on reserved seats, facing resistance from family, party, and society when seeking to campaign independently.

The complex dynamics of gender discrimination come to the forefront as CPDI officials point out the lack of seriousness towards women members within the existing political structure. Women parliamentarians find themselves relegated to a separate box, with limited roles in party decision-making. This structural inequality underscores the need for a more inclusive political environment, where women can actively contribute to shaping the direction of political parties.

Records reveal a concerning trend of female parliamentarians having familial ties with party leadership, raising questions about nepotism and favoritism in the allocation of reserved seats. This culture further exacerbates the gender imbalance in parliament, as constraints on women entering politics remain high.

As the struggle for women's political representation in Pakistan continues, it becomes evident that breaking barriers requires not only dismantling cultural taboos and patriarchy but also reforming the political system itself. The upcoming general election serves as a critical juncture for Pakistan to reassess its commitment to gender inclusivity and foster an environment where women can play an active and influential role in shaping the nation's future.