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Pakistani women 'break political barriers'

Badam Zari and Nusrat Begum make history by becoming first women to contest parliamentary seats from tribal region.

Last Modified: 02 Apr 2013 15:50
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Two Pakistani women have made history by becoming the first women to run for parliament from the country's tribal regions, highly conservative areas which are safe havens for militants.

Most women in the tribal regions are uneducated, rarely work outside the home and wear long, flowing clothes that cover most of their skin when they appear in public.

But 40-year-old Badam Zari told The Associated Press on Monday that she would participate in the May 11 election to highlight the problems facing women, which she believes the government has ignored.

 Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder reports from Islamabad

 

"I made this decision to serve and help our sisters and mothers in the area. Our area of Bajur (tribal region) is poor and backward, we have problems in the health and education sectors - this is the reason I decided to take part in the election," she said.

The other woman candidate, Nusrat Begum, also filed her papers as an independent. Begum is the first woman in Lower Dir to contest elections.

Hard-line views

Zari spoke to reporters at a news conference in Khar, the main town in Bajur, wearing a colourful shawl wrapped around her body and head, with only her eyes showing.

Bajur is part of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan and is one of the many areas in the tribal region where the army has battled Taliban militants, who are waging a bloody insurgency against the government.

The militants have a history of using violence to enforce their hard-line views on women.

Last year, the Taliban in a different part of the northwest shot 15-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in the head in an unsuccessful attempt to kill her because she resisted the militants' views and was a strong advocate of girls' education.

Zari, who finished high school and does not have any children, said she filed the paperwork necessary to run for office on Sunday in Khar, the main town in Bajur.

The other woman, Nusrat Begum, also filed her papers as an independent candidate. Begum is the first woman in Lower Dir to contest elections.

'Barriers broken'

On Monday a government official who looked over the documents said Zari's decision to run was "courageous".

"This woman has broken barriers. This is very courageous. This step will pave the way for other people, especially women, so that this can happen in other districts of the FATA (Federal Administrated Tribal Area ) - that will ensure that other women can come forward," Pakistani government official, Asad Sarwar, said.

But many men in Bajur and other parts of the tribal region have a history of discouraging women to vote, saying they should remain at home, according to local traditions.

Far fewer women vote than men in other parts of Pakistan as well, and females remain under-represented in the country's politics.

But there are examples of Pakistani women holding very powerful political positions in the country, such as the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Zari said she hopes she can convince women to go out to vote. Out of the roughly 186,000 registered voters in her constituency, about 67,000 are women, according to government records.

Under Pakistan's political system, the winning candidate is the one who receives the most votes - not necessarily a majority - meaning Zari could be a strong candidate if she can get women to vote for her.

Zari said she has not yet received any threats or been discouraged from locals to run.

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Source:
Al Jazeera And Agencies
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