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Women and Election 2013 in Pakistan

This blog is part of a series on women and elections in Pakistan. The project is a joint effort by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) Pakistan and the UKS research center.


Women make up almost half of the almost 200 million people inhabiting Pakistan. That is indeed a huge number, but come election time, and the percentages we see the statisticians throwing at us present a pretty dismal picture.

Of the number of registered women voters, just a miniscule 4% were able to garner support of the political parties for candidature. There was a also a clear demographic divide in the voting pattern as most of the votes cast by women were in the urban areas, showing that change has been slow to emerge in the peri-urban and rural areas. However, what is commendable is that those who did come out, did so in defiance to the very potent threat held out by the Taliban to hit at those who were taking part in the elections.

The situation may not be very encouraging across party lines, with just the parties PPP, PML-N and MQM continuing to entrust some of their women members  with tickets to the general seats, the number has dropped in comparison to the previous year.

 The affirmative action of allocating 33% seats to women, initiated by the military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf saw even conservative religious parties having their representatives in the legislature. However, this time around, they have decided to dispense with the formality, and we do not see any female  JUI-F or Jamaat e Islami candidate.

If nothing else, it is also indicative of the need for proactive affirmative action on the legal and executive front to mainstream women in the political process and decision making bodies in Pakistan. To achieve this in some measure, the Election Commission of Pakistan had laid it down very clearly that the polling results of constituencies where women were not allowed to vote would be cancelled.

Just a day or two before the elections, and even after the polling had taken place, there emerged copies of agreements signed by the representatives of all the contesting parties, those who carried the tag of religious conservatives, as well those claiming to be progressive, liberal, even secular ones, which had decided NOT to let the women in their areas come out and vote. At other places, evidence is emerging that to avoid the risk of any legal action, verbal agreements prevented the women from exercising their right to vote. At other places, the men cast the votes ‘on behalf of their women.’

Afia Salam

The move was roundly condemned by civil society organizations, who are now urging the Election Commission of Pakistan to deliver on its commitments of taking action against these discriminatory practices. The political parties who have been named and shamed have also been put in a spot, and are trying to wriggle out of the responsibility by putting across excuses about the signatories doing so in their personal capacity and not under the party mandate.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Other than the women candidates put up by the parties, 36 for the 272 general seats, a number that is a drop from the previous elections, several independent woman candidates braved the process to make their voices heard

While most of the candidates who received party tickets did so due to the ‘dynastic or family’ affiliations, except of MQM, It were the independent women candidates who were really making the waves. For instance, for the first time ever, a woman, Badam Zari, defied traditional norms and stood for elections from Bajaur in the Federally Administered Tribal Area, or FATA. Then there was Nusrat Begum from Dir, Veeru Kohli from Hyderabad, Hajiani from Tharparkar, transgender candidates , Sanam Faqir from Sukkur, , Haji Nargis from Nawabshah… and Bindya Rana from Karachi.

By just contesting the elections these women were making a strong statement, in front of traditionally strong, powerful, even violently repressive systems and personalities that women had stepped into the mainstream of politics in Pakistan, and they were here to stay.

Author: Afia Salam

Afia Salam is a media consultant and trainer, content developer/editor, documentary concept and script writer and a presenter/producer for television in Pakistan.

This blog series, produced by Uks Research Center, in collaboration with FES, is such one effort which has been started for the benefit of women, women in politics and the people of Pakistan in general. You can get in touch with the FES or the Uks organizations via email ( or or via phone (+92-51-2850906). A radio program series on women’s issues can also be heard on Uks’s website at


29.05.2013 | 8:34