Tuesday, November 10, 2020

An uphill battle: Meet the women contesting general polls in Gilgit-Baltistan

In 33-member legislative assembly of GB, few women vote, fewer contests and none have to date pulled a victory

PPP's Sadia Danish, JUI-F's Mehnaz Wali and PTI's Amina Bibi will be contesting elections in Gilgit Baltistan. Photo: Geo.tv

In Pakistan, for any female election candidate, the hurdles are the same: they face indifference, mockery and resistance from voters and lack of interest from their own political parties when tickets are awarded. Which is why in the 2018 polls, only eight women won general contestable seats for the parliament, out of the 272 up for grabs.

But in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan’s northernmost administrative region, the battle is even harder. In the 33-member strong legislative assembly of the region, few women vote, fewer contest and none have to date pulled out a victory.

In 2009, four women were in the running to be elected. That number fell to three in 2015. This year, again, only four women have jumped into the fray. The women are: the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Amina Bibi, Pakistan Peoples Party’s Sadia Danish and Jamiat Ulema-e Islam-F’s Mehnaz Wali and independent candidate Shahnaz Bhutto (contesting from GBA 20 Ghizer). 

Wali has previously sat on the seats reserved for women in the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. She has also served as the education minister in the region. Still, in the assembly she was often ignored and ridiculed by male lawmakers.

“Whenever I would raise an issue in the House, I was told to stay quiet,” she told Geo.tv over the phone, “They [the men] would say you are a woman, you are on a reserved seat, you have no right to speak.”

Read more: PTI will clean sweep Gilgit-Baltistan elections, says  PM Imran Khan

Wali, who is a resident of the constituency GBLA 1 in Gilgit was hoping to represent her hometown in the polls this year, but her party chose to award the ticket to her male colleague, Abdul Hameed Gujjar. She is now listed on the ballot in GBLA 6 in Hunza, as a JUI-F candidate.

Despite her political party’s support, campaigning in the region has not been easy. When Wali goes on the stump, moving door-to-door, male and female voters would ask her the same question: Why are you running and not a man?

Amina Ansari agrees that this kind of response deters more women from entering politics. Contesting from GBLA 23 on a PTI ticket, Ansari, known as Amina Bibi, is also no stranger to politics.

With a 15-year political career behind her, Ansari received the most number of votes than any other female contestant in Gilgit-Baltistan in the 2015 polls.

Previously she was associated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Q and in 2015 she joined the PTI. 

Read more: Who is likely to win Gilgit-Baltistan’s election?

“The people of my constituency are like family to me,” Ansari tells Geo.tv, “Yet, in our society, women [politicians] are rarely accepted.”

The female candidates are aware of the fact that they might not be able to make much of a difference in the male-dominated assembly. Still, Mehnaz Wali wants to pave the way for other women to contest.

“I want to be the first drop, the first drop before it begins to rain change,” she said.