Pakistan Elections 2013: Female Candidates Trying to Change Status Quo

Marking the first time a democratically elected government will be succeeded by another, Pakistan's general election on May 11 promises to be a possible game-changer for the country. 

While the upcoming election does provide hope for continued democracy in the 66-year-old country, women in Pakistan still face an uphill battle both as candidates and voters. 

Reserved seats for female candidates have always been a part of Pakistan's constitution standing at 22.5%. In the lower house of parliament, known as the National Assembly, 60 of the 342 seats are reserved for women. 

History also shows there have been female politicians in power since the country's inception with 161 female candidates running for office in the 2013 elections, a 129.8 % increase since 2008. 

While most candidates contesting come from elite backgrounds, these women are standing up to change the status quo of the ballot box and the country.

As the 18th speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Fehmida Mirza is hoping to run for the third time and compete for the NA position. Hailing from a strong political family, Mirza got the highest turnout in the 2008 elections defeating 10 male opponents. Her father, Qazi Abdul Majeed Abid, was a former federal and provincial minister while her uncle, Qazi Mohammad Akbar, was also a provincial minister. 

Former actress Mussarat Shaheen is also in the news for taking on Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the conservative Jamiat-e Ulema Islam (Society of Muslim Clerics) who wants to turn Pakistan into a Shari'a state. 

Despite taunts about her gender and former career as well as claims of threats to her life, Shaheen said she is not afraid of the risk she is taking to expose Rehman's alleged corrupt practices. 

"I put my life at risk to come to Dera Ismail Khan and compete against Fazlur Rehman. I know a plan has been prepared to kill me but I will walk through these roads and streets. I am not scared," she said. "I will be proud if I die for the rights of the people of Dera Ismail Khan and Pakistan."

While many women in urban areas may be actively engaging in political discourse and society, women in rural areas of Pakistan do not have the opportunity to do so. 

In this year's elections, however, there have also been a handful of women running for Pakistan's parliament from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (Fata), considered to be a hotspot for the Taliban.

There is an inherent danger for women running in the election.

For Nusrat Begum's campaign to be the first female representative from the tribal region of Dir, her election pitch defies the conservative stance of her constituency as well as everything the Taliban stands for.

"Dir is very conservative, but I came out because I wanted things to get better, so there can be peace, and end unemployment and to do something for our country," Begum said in a CNN article.

Not every female candidate will win their coveted spot nor will their election to office completely close the gender gap in the country. But despite the dangers of running in the elections, the passion and precident set forth by these women shows the possibility of change both in urban and rural Pakistan.

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Hyacinth Mascarenhas

Hyacinth is a graduate of the George Washington University where she majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. Her interests include cultural, social and political trends in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as human rights issues across the globe.

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