The conspicuously low number of female candidates in Pakistan’s 12th general election indicates the pervasive gender inequality in the nation. Just 313 of the 5,112 candidates seeking seats in the National Assembly are women, which is a revealing statistic. This problem is brought to light by the Aurat Foundation’s recent complaint to the ECP. The association claims that the BNP, JI, ANP, TLP, JUI-F, and PPP have failed to submit at least five percent female candidates for general seats. Women are frequently confined to seats with little possibility of winning, even in cases when they are nominated—a move that tokenizes rather than encourages female political engagement. In Kohistan, where some local clerics have proclaimed women’s advocacy and canvassing to be un-Islamic, the situation is even worse. The directive was derided as a “political stunt” to promote the JUI-F by another cleric in Kohistan, but it illustrates the kinds of social barriers that women confront just by virtue of its issuance and the conviction that disobeying it would be “sinful.” Beyond candidatures, the situation of female voters in traditional districts such as Dhurnal, Punjab, is as concerning. There, men have banned educated women from exercising their right to vote. The ECP’s ability to nullify polls in places where women are prohibited from voting is still only a theoretical deterrent in areas where such orthodox attitudes are prevalent.
More is needed to empower women in Pakistani politics than merely enacting legal quotas. It calls for a cultural revolution that recognises the contributions made by women to public life, supports their involvement as candidates and voters, and profoundly reinterprets their place in Pakistani society. In order for this to happen, the ECP, political parties, and civil society must cooperate to break down the obstacles that keep half of the nation’s people from participating in society, such as outdated customs, illiteracy, and social expectations around family duties. Realising that issues that disproportionately affect women, such as economic development, education, violence against women, and reproductive rights, require a woman’s perspective, is imperative. Their knowledge is essential for developing policies that deal with these issues. As the country prepares for yet another election, we need to consider how difficult it will be to achieve gender parity in politics. It is essential to the future of a Pakistan that is inclusive and genuinely democratic.