There are many issues for women as candidates. Here I am going to discuss gender issues in women as candidates.
Women as Candidates
Women’s participation in contemporary formal politics is low throughout the world. Women face numerous obstacles in achieving representation in governance.
Their participation has been limited by the assumption that women’s proper sphere is the “private” sphere. Whereas the “public” domain is one of political authority and contestation, the “private” realm is associated with the family and the home. By relegating women to the private sphere, their ability to enter the political arena is curtailed.
Gender inequality within families, inequitable division of labor within households, and cultural attitudes about gender roles further subjugate women and serve to limit their representation in public life.
Societies that are highly patriarchal often have local power structures that make it difficult for women to combat. Thus, their interests are often not represented.
Unlike their male counterparts, female candidates are exposed to several barriers that may impact their desire to run for elected office. These barriers include sex stereotyping, political socialization, lack of preparation for political activity, and balancing work and family.
Even once elected, women tend to hold lesser-valued cabinet ministries or similar positions. These are described as “soft industries” and include health, education, and welfare.
Rarely do women hold executive decision-making authority in more powerful domains or those that are associated with traditional notions of masculinity.
Many women attain political standing due to kinship ties, as they have male family members who are involved in politics. These women tend to be from higher-income, higher-status families and thus may not be as focused on the issues faced by lower-income families.
Additionally, women face challenges in that their private lives seem to be focused on more than their political careers. For instance, fashion choices are often picked apart by the media, and in this women rarely win, either they show too much skin or too little, and they either look too feminine or too masculine.
Women are fighting a fierce battle for political representation in Pakistan. Although years of struggle by women’s advocacy groups led General Pervez Musharraf to reserve seats for women in the National and provincial Assemblies, there are areas in Pakistan where women are not even allowed to vote.
Many women are kept out of the political process because they do not have identity cards or are not registered as voters. If they somehow cross these two hurdles, elders of the community and local officials of political parties illegally bar women from voting in parts of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Reserved seats for women in the National and provincial Assemblies have facilitated women’s participation in politics and encouraged more women to contest for general seats.
Many other women with aspirations to improve their communities filed papers but lost to their more powerful rivals. Wealth, influence, and backing by political parties are the traditional recipe for political success.
Reserved seats in the Assemblies have introduced a gentler perspective to policymaking, but the mechanism for filling these seats needs tremendous improvement. Instead of electing women indirectly, parliament should consider introducing direct elections for filling reserved seats for women.
This, however, does not mean that women have not contributed meaningfully to legislative business in the past two Assemblies.
Pakistan’s society is rapidly changing with more women contesting the public space with men. No party can ignore women’s causes without incurring political costs. The PML-N has recently been criticized for not giving adequate representation to women in the proposed local bodies’ law in Punjab.
It is hoped that the PML-N would understand the changing dynamics in Pakistan’s society and take credible measures to ensure that women get due representation in politics.
NADRA and the ECP should also make sure that by the next election, all women of voting age have ID cards and are registered to vote.
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