Women in Bajaur Agency and other parts of tribal areas were not allowed to come out their houses. Terrorists have destroyed the girls school in Bajaur Agency. My little daughter is unable to go to school. The government and media instead of creating wrong impression should take steps for empowering women in the tribal areas and other parts of the country.
According to Dawn editorial, the winds of change are refreshing. Not only have they ushered in an era of governance that promises to be more democratic than the previous one, they have also signalled a greater degree of freedom for women in politics. Thus for the first time, women in South Waziristan voted. True, there were other areas, both in Fata and in the NWFP, where female voters were regrettably denied the ballot - that too thanks to decisions by jirgas and threats by militants. Against this backdrop, the decision of tribal elders in South Waziristan and some other places to allow women to vote was a welcome one. It indicated that the elders were willing to change by breaking with tradition and defying the militants. Helped by secular forces, such flexibility can gain momentum, giving an increasing number of women a political voice, especially those isolated from the mainstream. In undertaking this task, liberal elements had one major advantage in these elections: religious forces either boycotted or fared badly, thus losing much of their political clout.
What should also boost political participation by women in conservative regions is the example of women living in more liberated environments. Many of them aspire to leadership roles. For instance, there has been a discernible rise in the number of women running for election to the National Assembly. If, in the 1988 elections, 27 women ran for the general seats, 20 years later the number was more than 60. Four women were elected in 1988 while 13 will take oath in the next National Assembly, one more than in 2002. In addition, hundreds of women registered themselves to contest for 60 reserved seats in the National Assembly and 128 in the provincial assemblies, where 116 ran for 577 general seats. Credit must be given here to President Musharraf for reviving and enhancing the reserved seats for women in 2002. These had lapsed under the 1973 Constitution and therefore did not feature in the 1990, 1993 and 1997 polls, causing the number of women legislators to plummet.
The ideal situation is, of course, one where the system is quota-free and women feel confident about running on their own merit. But for this, greater input is needed from the legislators themselves who have to go beyond adopting party positions on matters that are critical to women. They must recognise that there is no room for conservative ideological positions that obstruct justice for the women whose empowerment they (theoretically) seek. The lack of unity among women parliamentarians on this issue was more than apparent in the days leading up to the Women Protection Act in 2006. Women legislators will remain bereft of both assertiveness and authority unless they recognise the needs of half the population, and together fight for the rights of those they claim to represent. Political parties could also promote the cause of women in politics if they were to give more tickets to female candidates for the general seats. A provision to that effect in the Political Parties Act, as in South Africa, would be a welcome step.