Women don’t find centre stage on election posters

ISLAMABAD: In the run up to the local government elections in the federal capital, nearly every neighbourhood has been plastered with posters by all major candidates. But while nearly every panel has a woman councillor, not all of them are featured as prominently on these banners as their male counterparts.

 

A drive through the city reveals that while there are women candidates, especially those vying for the chairman/vice chairman slot, whose posters feature them prominently, most other panels have not put their women candidates at the forefront.

But there are exceptions: Amina Sadaf, the PTI candidate for woman councillor from UC-50; and Rashida Sohail, a PML-N aspirant for the general councillor seat in UC-29.


Major parties reluctant to put women candidates on campaign material


Sector E-11 is strewn with PTI posters with Ms Sadaf’s image front and centre, with smaller photographs of the other men on the ticket. But Ms Sohail’s banners, which can be found across Sector F-10, are separate from her colleagues.

But this is not the norm by any stretch of the imagination and one is hard pressed to find any other women candidates in the city who are prominently part of their party’s election campaigns. In fact, most other panels’ posters do not even feature a smaller photo of their women candidates.

“Just think about the number of seats allocated to women in the national and provincial assemblies; I don’t think it so odd that women are not better represented on campaign banners,” says veteran rights activist Tahira Abdullah.

Tahir Mehdi of the Punjab Log Sujag, an NGO striving for equal opportunities in the political sphere, told Dawn that parties seemed to think they had dealt with the ‘woman issue’ by including reserved members in parliament and fielding women councillors, which is why they did not make an effort to better represent women in politics. “Two reserved seats are thought to be enough to represent women.”

“Ours is a very patriarchal society,” points out Amna Mawaz, the Awami Workers Party (AWP) candidate for vice chairman in UC-28. “In the political sphere, women’s participation is just seen as an extension of male consent.”

She said parties were reluctant to give women tickets or include more women in their panels. This meant that most of the women who ended up on the ticket were family members – wives, daughters or sisters – who then act as proxies for the men in their family.

“The men in the party don’t want to see pictures of their family members on posters, which is why you don’t see a lot of them around,” she said.

But there is, Ms Mawaz maintains, a double standard to this attitude. “The same men then pose with widowed women and orphaned children to gain more votes. They don’t seem to have a problem with having their picture taken with a woman and using it for publicity purposes.”

Code of conduct?

Arjumand A. Sheikh, the PML-N candidate for chairman in UC-28, however, offered a different explanation.

“The Election Commission circulated instructions saying that we should adhere to the suggestions of the elders of a locality during our campaigns. So, if they feel like that should not put a woman on the poster, we don’t.”

Other party candidates that Dawn spoke to professed an ignorance of such stipulations. Despite repeated attempts, the ECP could not be reached for comment in this matter.

Sobia Irshad, the woman councillor on the PML-N panel from UC-28, said there was no need for women’s pictures on campaign posters. “It is enough that they are contesting the elections. It is not a good thing to have your pictures plastered around the city, which is why I don’t have mine on any of my posters.”

Several candidates that Dawn spoke to also referred to a Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) banner for a panel in Sector I-10, which featured a photo of their woman councillor in full niqab, “Why put her photo up at all, then,” wondered Ms Mawaz.

When asked about the poster, Sajjad Ahmed Abbasi, the Jamaat’s candidate for general councillor in UC-5 Bhara Kahu, said: “The party has not put any restrictions on women appearing on campaign posters. But we cannot force them to show their faces or photograph them if they don’t want to be photographed. Is that not just as bad as forcing them to stay in the background?”

Kulsoom Akhtar, who is contesting from Sector G-9 on a JI ticket, said that not appearing on campaign posters and observing purdah was a choice made by the candidates themselves. “This is part of our beliefs and we don’t have to compromise them. This is just a personal preference, one that I would like people to respect,” she said.

Seemi Ezdi, the PTI candidate for vice chairman from UC-28, doesn’t think parties are to blame for women’s under-representation. “You can’t drag women into politics. Those who want to be a part of the process and have worked hard have been allotted tickets,” she said.

Ms Ezdi, who is the sister of PTI Secretary General Jahangir Tareen, told Dawn that all party candidates had put up their own posters and no one had dictated whether they should put their pictures up or not. “If women don’t want to put their pictures up it is their choice,” she said.

But Fouzia Arshad, another PTI candidate, offered a different perspective. A woman’s picture being pasted across the city was a good or bad thing depending on what the picture was being used for, she said. “My posters are a matter of pride for my family.”

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2015

You can find a link to the story here

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