August Issue 2018
Women For All Seasons
According to the ECP document uploaded from the internet, ‘Status of Contesting Candidates in General Elections — 2018,’ 172 women were fielded by assorted parties for the National Assembly. Of these, 73 women were fielded from the Punjab, 48 from Sindh, 35 from KP and 16 from Balochistan. The document does not say whether these numbers apply only to direct elections, or also include reserved seats. They do, however, indicate that the political parties heeded the mandate of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s Election Act 2017, which required all political parties to allocate five per cent of all their seats to women.
The outcome was not encouraging: only eight women were elected directly to the National Assembly. In the 2013 elections, five women were elected directly, while another five became MNAs after by-elections, making it a total of 10.
The current composition of the directly elected female MNAs is a mixed bag, ranging from a couple of first-timers to several seasoned politicians. Six of these women have returned to parliament for the second time. Five of them come from powerful political backgrounds, with a family history that dates back to their grandfathers, and includes other politically influential male family members. The remaining three come from humbler backgrounds and have worked their way up from the grassroot level. Hopefully, the women’s numbers will grow this time too, with subsequent by-elections, and in the future with political parties fielding more women on general seats.
In the meantime, meet the women who have made their way into parliament — and not on account of their gender.
Mehnaz Akber Aziz (PML-N), NA-77 Narowal-1
Runner-up: Muhmmad Tariq Anis (Independent)
It is Mehnaz Akber Aziz’s first stint as a member of parliament, and that too in the National Assembly. She won her seat, NA-77 Narowal-1 on a PML-N ticket, with 106,366 votes.
The race to win NA-77 Narowal became complicated on June 28, 2018, when the Supreme Court disqualified Daniyal Aziz, the former federal minister and PML-N leader, for five years in the contempt of court case. Aziz and the top brass of the PML-N decided to field his wife in the 2018 general elections.
With an MSc in Anthropology from Quaid-e-Azam University and a Masters in Gender and Development Studies, from Sussex University UK, and an impressive career path in her chosen field, Mehnaz Aziz comes with a vast experience in the social sector with a focus on policy-making and capacity-building in educational programmes. She has brought stakeholders together for dialogue on reforming education with a holistic approach, and implemented programmes on education at the national and provincial level.
She is presently the president of a non-profit called Parwaan Pakistan Early Childhood Education and Development, and the CEO and founding director of the Children’s Global Network. She has also served on several boards, including the Punjab Compulsory Education Commission; as a senior member of the Education Task Force, Prime Minister’s office, and has been a World Bank advisor. Mehnaz also co-authored, with four others, a chapter, ‘Education System Reform in Pakistan: Why, When and How?’ for a 2014 World Economic Forum publication called Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches.
Zartaj Gul (PTI),
NA-191 Dera Ghazi Khan-III
Runner-up: Sardar Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari (PML-N)
A relative newcomer to the NA, Zartaj Gul, is a young, dynamic female politician elected by a margin of 25,269 votes from NA-191 Dera Ghazi Khan-III. Born into a prestigious and conservative North Waziristan tribe, Wazir Ahmad Zai, Zartaj Gul’s father, a retired chief engineer from WAPDA, encouraged all his six children — including his four daughters — to aim for higher education — despite opposition from his tribe.
After completing her early education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Zartaj moved to Lahore, where she pursued her undergraduate studies from Queen Mary’s College, and subsequently joined the National College of Fine Arts (NCA) to complete her Master’s Degree. As an NCA student she campaigned for the Shaukat Khanam Cancer Hospital as a committed volunteer. Inspired by Imran Khan’s political vision, she became a PTI member, but it was after her marriage in 2010 to another staunch PTI member, Humayun Raza Khan Akhwind of DG Khan, that launched her political career in earnest. Both husband and wife worked hard in her husband’s constituency and are known as the PTI’s golden couple. Apart from women’s issues, Gul’s priorities are education, health and municipal issues for her constituency. She is a member of PTI’s Core Committee and she also served as PTI’s president of the Punjab Women’s Wing.
In the 2013 elections she was one of the three female candidates PTI fielded directly for NA seats, challenging powerful candidates from the Leghari and Kundi tribes who held sway in the constituency of NA-172 Dera Ghazi Khan. She narrowly lost against them, but rose again against them in the 2018 elections, challenging the dynastic politics of the constituency. She won with a lead of more than 25,000 votes against two sardars — Sardar Awais Khan Leghari and Sardar Dost Mohammad Khan Khosa — making a strong statement for women in politics in a conservative community.
Shams un Nisa Memon (PPPP), NA-232 Thatta
Runner-up: Arslan Bux Brohi (PTI)
Shams un Nisa Memon hails from one of Thatta’s leading political families and was first elected on a PPP ticket to NA-237 Thatta-I in a by-election in 2013. The MNA who had vacated the seat resulting in the by-election was her younger son, Sadiq Ali Memon, who had been disqualified from office because of holding a dual nationality.
Shams un Nisa was reportedly nominated because of her family’s old affiliations with the PPP. Her late husband, Abdul Hameed Memon, had also served as a parliamentarian, while her late father-in-law, Sadiq Memon, was one of the founding members of the PPP. In 2009, her elder son, Jalil Memon — then MPA and Sindh Minister for Cooperatives — was killed in a road accident. Thereafter, when her younger son, who had won the NA-232 Thatta seat in the 2013 elections, was disqualified from office by a court, the party decided to nominate someone from the same family. Ergo Shams un Nisa proved victorious in Thatta against a powerful candidate from the influential Shirazi group who had secured four seats in the Sindh Assembly and one in the NA on PML-N tickets in the 2013 elections. In the 2018 elections, from the same constituency in Thatta, Shams un Nisa polled a high number of votes — 152,691 — winning by a huge margin against the paltry 18,900 votes secured by her opponent.
Dr Nafisa Shah (PPPP),
Runner-up: Ghous Ali Shah (GDA)
Nafisa Shah, the two-term member of the National Assembly (NA) from 2008 to May 2018, is also a writer, an academic and an artist. She first came to the National Assembly on a reserved seat on a Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) ticket from Sindh in the 2008 general elections. However, for Pakistan’s 2018 general elections, Nafisa Shah contested directly for a general seat from the PPP platform and was successfully elected from NA-208 Khairpur-1, with one of the largest number of votes received by a woman MNA. She defeated senior PML-N leader and ex-Chief Minister of Sindh, Ghous Ali Shah, with 107,847 votes and is now embarking on her third term in the NA.
Daughter of former Sindh Chief Minister and PPP stalwart, Qaim Ali Shah, Nafisa has a doctorate in Social and Cultural Anthropology from Oxford University, UK. She began her career as a journalist with Newsline magazine, where she continued for several years. She was among the first to write about karo-kari — the custom of premeditated ‘honour killing’ that is prevalent in upper Sindh, her home province. During her first stint as MNA, she received her PHd degree in 2011 for her research on honour killing in Sindh, which was published in 2017 in her book, Honour Unmasked: Gender Violence, Law and Power in Pakistan.
Nafisa Shah’s political career began as the nazim of Khairpur District from 2001 to 2007 — then being one of the only two women district nazims in Pakistan. She is a strong advocate of a rights-based policy. She has served as the chair of the National Commission for Human Development, the vice president of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and the general secretary of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (between 2008 and 2013), which was instrumental in steering rights-based legislation, especially on women’s rights. She has also been a member of the Standing Committee for Finance, Economic Affairs, Privatisation and of Foreign Affairs, and Planning and Development.
Ghulam Bibi (PTI),
Runner-up: Muhammad Ahmed (Independent)
Ghulam Bibi Bharwana, a seasoned MNA, is a PTI candidate whose selection as an electable paid off. In the 2018 polls, she was elected for the fourth time as an MNA — this time from the constituency of NA-115 Jhang-II, securing 91,434 votes, against her rival’s 68,515.
Ghulam Bibi is the granddaughter of the late MNA, Ghulam Haider Barwana. The Bharwanas come from a traditionally conservative background, where women observe strict purdah, rarely venturing out of their homes. The literacy rate among the women of this community is generally low as they seldom attend school. However, Ghulam Bibi has a BA degree from Lahore College for Women and an LLB degree from Punjab University.
Her political career began in 2002, when she won the NA-87 Jhang-II constituency from the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) platform, following that with another win from the same constituency and platform in the 2008 general elections. During her first term, she served as the Minister of State for Education. She returned to the NA as a PML-N MNA in the 2013 elections. However, she resigned from her seat in the NA in protest against the issue of the Khatam-e-Nabuwat Law in December 2017. Earlier at a Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (PBUH) Conference in Faisalabad, Ghulam Bibi had announced that she rests her political future with Pir Khawaja Hameeduddin Sialvi.
She quit the PML-N in May 2018 and joined the PTI, and continued her winning streak. In the 2018 general elections, she was declared the winner in a constituency regarded as an Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) stronghold. She defeated the runner-up, ASWJ leader, Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, by a wide margin.
Shazia Atta Marri (PPPP), NA-216 Sanghar-II
Runner-up: Kishin Chand Parwani (GDA)
Shazia Atta Marri, another seasoned female lawmaker from PPP, has been elected to the National Assembly for the second time from NA-216 Sanghar-II. She comes from one of the leading politically influential families of Sindh. Her grandfather, Hajji Ali Muhammad Marri, served as a member of the Sindh Legislative Assembly under British rule. Both her parents, Atta Muhammad Marri and Parveen Marri, have been members of the Sindh Assembly, and her father also served as its deputy speaker.
Shazia began her political career when she joined the PPP and has remained with the party ever since. She became an MPA in the Sindh legislature in 2002, during which time she held the provincial ministry of electricity and power and again in 2008, both times nominated from reserved seats for women. After the death of senior PPP stalwart, MNA Fauzia Wahab, in 2012, Marri was nominated and selected as a member of the NA. In 2013, she ran for direct elections from NA-235 Sanghar-II, but lost. She then became an MNA on a women’s reserved seat. In the 2018 elections, she once again contested on a general seat from NA-216 Sanghar-II and won with 80,752 votes, against her adversary’s 70,346.
While in public office, she served as a member of the Public Accounts Committee and Standing Committee on Health, and remained PPP’s finance spokesperson when her party was in the opposition from 2002-2007. She also served as information minister from April 2008 to January 2010. The thorny issue of child marriages is particularly important to Shazia, as she herself was married off at the age of 14, as per early marriage customs in parts of Sindh, only to be divorced two years later, a child in tow. She has worked closely with many NGOs on the issue.
Zubaida Jalal (BAP),
Runner-up: Syed Ahsan Shah (BNP-Awami)
Zubaida Jalal was the sole female candidate to win the elections from Balochistan and be elected to the NA. She won the NA-271 Kech and Turbat seat on a Balochistan Awami Party ticket, defeating BNP-Awami’s candidate, Syed Ahsan Shah.
Zubaida was born in Mand village in the Kech District of Balochistan, into a poor family. Prospects for her future would have been bleak, but she graduated from high school in Kuwait where her father had found employment. She pursued higher studies and eventually earned a Master’s degree from Balochistan University. During her career she worked as a teacher, social activist and politician. Zubaida’s social activism began early when she helped establish a girls’ school in her village with her father’s support in a highly conservative area where girls were not permitted to attend school. As a teacher, she taught English literature at the Balochistan University. She has also authored numerous publications on poverty alleviation and Baloch embroidery. In recognition of her services the Government of Pakistan conferred the Pride of Performance Award for Education in 1993.
Zubaida joined the PML-N in 1988 but left the party in 2000. She shot to national prominence after successfully contesting from NA-27 from the PML(Q) platform in the 2002 general elections, and went on to serve as a federal minister for education in Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s cabinet from 2002-07, becoming a favourite in Musharraf’s first government.
In the 2008 general elections she contested as an independent candidate from NA-272 constituency, but lost to her opponent, Yaqoob Bizenjo of the Balochistan National Party (BNP). In 2013, Zubaida Jalal endorsed PML-N Nawaz Sharif’s premiership, but in the 2018 elections she decided to contest on a BAP seat and created history, by being the only female MNA elected directly from Balochistan.
Dr Fehmida Mirza (GDA), NA-230 Badin-II
Runner-up: Haji Rasool Bux Chandio (PPPP)
Dr Fehminda Mirza hails from a prominent political family of Sindh. Her father, Qazi Abdul Majeed Abid, was a federal and provincial minister, while her uncle, Qazi Mohammad Akbar, was a long-serving provincial minister. Her husband, Zulfiqar Mirza, also a doctor by training and a former MNA from Sindh, was previously a close friend of former President Asif Ali Zardari.
Fehmida graduated from Liaquat Medical University, Jamshoro, in 1982, after which she practiced medicine. Before entering politics, she was an agriculturalist and a successful businesswoman working as the chief executive officer of Mirza Sugar Mills and of a Karachi-based advertising company. Fehmida joined the PPP in 1997, after which she won three consecutive National Assembly general seats from Badin — in 1997, 2002 and 2008 respectively.
She was the first woman to become the Speaker of the National Assembly, which she served during the PPP government between 2008-2013. Meanwhile, her husband who had the portfolio of the Sindh home minister became controversial. Despite having a falling out with Zardari, Fehmida contested on a PPP ticket from Badin in the 2013 elections, and won. However, for the 2018 elections, she quit PPP and joined the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and contested on a direct seat on a GDA ticket. She was unofficially announced successful from NA-230 Badin-II with 96,875 votes, against her opponent’s 96,015 – a close contest.
However, the matter did not end there. Rasool Bux Chandio, her political opponent, cried foul. With more that 10,000 votes rejected from that constituency, he demanded a recount saying the results had been manipulated. Fehmida made a plea to a division bench of Hyderabad’s circuit Sindh High Court to stay the ongoing recounting of votes, which was turned down. However, on 5 August, 2018 after the recount she was declared the winning candidate from NA-230.
The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.