PESHAWAR -- Hameeda Shahid, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, has announced her intention to run for office in Upper Dir District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), an area where women historically have been disenfranchised.
Hameeda, a 45-year-old native of the Usheri Dara Samkot area and mother of six children, filed her nomination papers on June 6 to run for a provincial assembly seat in Constituency PK-10 (Dir-1) during general elections scheduled for July 25.
She is the first female candidate in an area where female voters are rare and, in some cases, nonexistent.
In 2017, some religious groups and extremist elements prevented women from casting votes in two districts in Lower and Upper Dir during local government by-elections for tehsil and village council seats, Dawn reported last December.
Of the 6,286 registered female voters in Shahikhel Talash Tehsil of Upper Dir, none cast her vote. Similarly in Samarbagh Tehsil of Lower Dir, not a single one of 7,042 registered female voters took part in polls, according to the report.
Meanwhile, 34% of women in Upper Dir are not even registered to vote for the 2018 general elections, according to an analysis on gender deficits in voters by the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan.
In Lower Dir, 32% of women are not registered, followed by Battagram District, where the figure is 30%.
"My mission is to break this taboo on women participating in electoral politics and contribute in the development of this underdeveloped area," Hameeda, a bridal designer by profession, told Pakistan Forward.
She admitted that she faces tough challenges ahead but hastened to add that life is full of difficulties that one must face and fight with determination.
"I want to do some good for the women of my native area, who are living in deprivation in the current age of modernity, advancement and development," she said.
While working for PTI during local elections in 2017, Hameeda found that women were living in miserable conditions throughout the mountainous region due to a lack of facilities.
Residents of the area are excited over her decision to contest polls, she said, adding that they consider it a "good omen" that will pave the way for female enfranchisement.
"People I meet, especially females, have appreciated my decision to contest polls in a male-dominated constituency and have promised full co-operation and support," she said.
Hameeda is not alone in her goal. Three other women in Lower Dir District have filed nomination papers to contest polls for national and provincial assembly seats.
Sobia Shahid (no relation to Hameeda) last year served in the KP Assembly and represented Lower Dir District on a seat reserved for women. Now she has decided to run for the National Assembly by contesting the election in Constituency NA-7 (Lower Dir). She is a member of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Other female candidates from Lower Dir include Sumera of PTI in Constituency PK-15 and Saira Shams of PTI in Constituency PK-16. Both are seeking seats in the provincial assembly.
Empowering, inspiring women
"The main objective behind awarding party tickets to female candidates in a region of almost-nonexistent female voting is to encourage female voters to come out and use their right to vote," said Shaukat Yousafzai, PTI spokesman in the province and a former KP Assembly member.
"Without women's empowerment we cannot claim development, and for this we have to give equal opportunities to women," he told Pakistan Forward.
"We consider a woman candidate the best motivator for the female electorate of the area to take part in the democratic system for its own empowerment and development," he said.
During 2013 elections, the PTI received a good turnout despite the low participation of female voters, he said.
"Now we are of the belief that PTI candidate Hameeda Shahid, who has made history by deciding to contest in a male chauvinist belt, will emerge triumphant by gaining female votes," Yousafzai said.
"Hameeda's candidacy will prove to be inspirational for women of Upper Dir District and help in increasing female turnout in the region," Neelum Toru, chair of the KP chapter of the National Commission on the Status of Women, told Pakistan Forward.
"Hameeda has chosen a difficult path, but she will emerge victorious because of her determination to empower the women of her native area," she said.
Toru said she appreciates PTI and PML-N for setting a new precedent of awarding tickets to female candidates in male-dominated constituencies.
She also expressed hope that such decisions would discourage the patriarchal attitude in the area, where some residents have pledged to try to prevent women from voting during elections.