Gender Politics in Pakistan

The first (ever) woman to run for parliament in a highly conservative region in Pakistan, Bajur, is making a statement in an attempt to force Pakistani governmental officials to place a higher focus on women’s inequality in the country. Her name is Badam Zari, a 40-year-old Pakistani housewife, and she is running for parliament in a tribal region located near the Afghanistan border known for its highly conservative values. The semi-autonomous tribal region of Bajur is located in northwest, severely poor and dominated by strong enforcement of conservative ideas derived from Islam enforced by Pashtun tribal leaders. Pakistan currently ranks second in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, depicting the large disparities between gender regarding political representation, education, health, and other issues.

Zari’s statement of bringing attention to women’s equality in such a conservatively dominated region is an attempt to demote patriarchal systems already in place. Her actions may endanger her (and her husband’s) wellbeing as she braves the potential for attacks from Islamist military. Women in the region of Bajur are often discourged by men to participate in elections and are usually undereducated, rarely working outside the home. Zari herself does not have an education beyond high school, but is using running for parliament as a means to represent her agency against suppression of women in Pakistan.

In an interview, Zari said, “My decision to contest the election will not only give courage to women in general and attract attention to their problems, but also helps negate the wrong impression about our society. This will reflect a true picture of our society, where women get respect.” Zari is running as an independent candidate, and hopes to secure votes from women in Pakistan, who currently constitute about 67,000 of the 186,000 registered voters in her constituency.

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