Iftikhar Khan

PESHAWAR: Women candidates directly contesting elections in tribal districts have said support of women voters can be decisive factor in the outcome of elections.

Naheed Afridi of the Awami National Party (ANP) is contesting elections from PK-106 constituency of Khyber tribal district, while Malasa from Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is contesting elections from PK-109 constituency of Kurram. They expressed these views in a panel discussion in Badloon program of TNN.

Naheed Afridi is running her election campaign like men. She not only runs door to door campaign, but also organizes corner meetings and addresses public meetings.

“I am participating in elections with the aim of giving voice to tribal women. Women in tribal districts have no representation in legislative assemblies and no one raises voice for them. I am working on a mission to include tribal women in decision-making process. I am going to different homes in my constituency and women are telling me that no one seeks their votes. It is because most of candidates are men and they go to hujras (male guest houses) and seek support of male voters,” she said.

Naheed Afridi said men in every family instruct their women to support a particular candidate.

“No one asks women about their opinion and they are excluded from decision-making. That is why most of the problems of tribal women remain unresolved. I am visiting tribal women to convince them to use their vote wisely and make their independent political decisions,” she said.

Naheed Afridi said she is facing many difficulties in pursuing her agenda. She said acceptance level for women candidates is very low in tribal districts.

“Some people still say why a woman is contesting elections as it is men’s job. But I am still very happy over the fact that whenever I visit a tribal home, my tribal sisters warmly welcome me and they appreciate my courage for contesting elections. Women say they can discuss their problems with women leaders and they cannot discuss these problems with men,” she said.

Naheed Afridi said resolving problems of women is often not included in the priorities of male leaders and they remain unaware about these problems. She said women are supporting me because they think their problems will be on top of my agenda.

“Women give me great encouragement for my step to contest elections from the constituency and some of my tribal brothers are also supporting me. They praise me for showing way to other tribal sisters and mothers to contest elections,” she said.

However, she said, there are many others who are endeavoring to maintain status quo of patriarchal set up in tribal districts. She said tribal women are very capable and they have their share in policy-making.

“Women have presented bills for women’s rights. Some people think that women lawmakers on reserved seats are useless, but I don’t support that view. Women lawmakers have taken commendable steps for rights of women. Presence of women representatives in legislative assemblies is must,” she said.

Naheed Afridi said he enjoyed great support from her family as her grandfather and father were in Khudai Khidmatgar Tehreek. She said her father was also an activist of National Awami Party (NAP). She said she was fortunate that my family is enlightened and she has also got enlightenment from my ancestors.

“I faced no problems from my family side, but problems from the society were so many. Some people are taunting me on social media that how a single woman can change tribal system. Some of them say satirically on my campaign that these are the ‘fruits’ of merger. It is actually a positive sign that women are taking part in politics, but some people are giving negative color to it,” she said, adding that some of the remarks are very sarcastic.

“It has also been said women are now going to hujras because of merger. If we are going to hujras then these people have also taken their politics to schools. These people ask their women to bring water and firewood from outside their houses, but whenever women seek some leadership role then they start making hue and cry about their so-called traditions,” she said. In fact, she said, it is not a threat to their traditions; it is a threat to patriarchal set up.

The ANP candidate said she got my education in Peshawar and some people think that she is from Peshawar.

“But let me tell you that I have the courage to contest elections. Contesting elections from areas like Tirah would have been difficult because the situation is much different there. When I run campaign in my constituency, I meet women and children at their homes. They will remember me as a woman who came to their house and sought support in elections. Children will get encouragement from my campaign and it is possible that they will become future leaders by taking inspiration from me,” she said.

Naila Altaf said while taking part in the discussion that she was initially unwilling to come to politics, but she was encouraged by the people, particularly the youth, to come to political field. She said some students persuaded her to apply for elections on last day.

“They persuaded me because they felt there is no one to raise voice for their rights. There are many girls for whom I am an inspirational story now because I have defeated stereotypes. There are still many people who say girls should become doctors or teachers. Only liberal families support their girls join politics,” she said.

She said she personally endeavors to do something different and unique. She said she joined politics to prove that women are not less talented than men and they can also represent people and make policies for them.

Naila Altaf said she is optimistic about good turnout of women voters. “Women should cast their votes according to their own free will, not according to instructions of male members of the family. They should be allowed to exercise their right in a free atmosphere,” she said.

The JI candidate said there will be a lot of difficulties for women contestants, but women of courage will achieve their objectives. “Someone will have to take this step; otherwise, status quo will not break in these areas. Some tribal districts are very strict and conservative. In Kurram, I know about some families which even didn’t allow their girls to go outside home for education. But situation is improving gradually and now girls from same families are getting education in Peshawar,” she said.