Is Politics of AJ&K a Men’s Business?

by Saba Ghulam Nabi

The role of women in decision making is low across the world but in South Asia this role is further marginalized due to the existing societal setup. At same pattern the politics of AJ&K is traditional, patriarchal and male dominated that impede the role and status of women in socio-political activities. Male members of the society are usually decision makers and policy makers. However, the females of AJ&K are much more privileged and have better literacy rate and job opportunities. But when it comes to politics, women are finding it challenging to participate in the politics as it was manifested in recent local bodies’ elections.

As women are more than half of the population i.e. 52%. They are well-educated and can play a vital role in decision making process but the women participation in recent local bodies’ election of AJ&K remained awfully low.
After thirty years of halt, the local bodies’ elections have been recently held in Azad Jammu and Kashmir as an outcome of the decision of the Supreme Court of AJ&K. These elections were organized in three phases on the divisional level in which all political parties of AJ&K fully participated. All political parties took part in the elections enthusiastically and ran their election campaigns vigorously, on the other hand, there were a large number of candidates who participated in the election as independent candidates. The majority of the candidates consisted of youth under their thirties which is positive development in the “elderly dominated” politics of AJ&K. They campaigned on the grassroots level problems. But despite being part of manifesto the participation of women was minimal.

Though every party claims to be democratic and give equal chance for women to participate in elections, but the real situation was quite disappointing. In comparison to 9567 candidates, only 39 women were participating in elections of wards and district council. While division wise situation was even more disappointing. Poonch division has the highest female literacy rate in AJ&K but political participation of women was negligible. In Poonch division only one female candidate participated in these elections while 3859 were male. Mirpur division is also considered as bigger and enlightened division but only 15 female candidates participated while 4330 were male.

Compared to these two divisions, Muzaffarabad division showed better results though very low in real terms, in Muzaffarabad division 23 female candidates participated and 1378 were male. The percentage of women participation in local bodies elections is 0.40% which presents a very bleak picture of the women representation. While the role of women in the legislation was already limited, due to the lack of effective representation in the local bodies, in the future, there will be obstacles in solving the problems of women in an effective manner, which will damage the reputation of the local bodies.

The representation of women in AJ&K assembly is always criticized where only one women is elected as MLA besides five nominated seats which makes the 9 percent of the total seats. This 9 percent representation is due to nominated seats, otherwise out of total elected seats the percentage is 0.02. The local bodies elections were supposed to provide a chance to female population to come to the front and take the driving seat, but the bus has been missed
This low representation of women ultimately means the less representation of 52 percent of the population. While the political representation is internationally recognized basic right of a women, the interim constitution of AJ&K also provides women with this right in its article no 17 that “guarantees that all citizens are equal under the law and are entitled to equal safeguard against discrimination in service.

No State Subject otherwise qualified for appointment in the service of AJ&K shall be discriminated against in respect of any such appointment on the ground only of race, religion, caste, or gender.”Besides that, the dominant political parties have this provision in their manifesto that they are bound to give 17% representation to the women and youth in elections. The question then rises that why the participation of is so low?

The dominant factor that contributes to this awfully low representation is the taboo associated with the politics. Politics is considered as “manly” thing and “no go area” for women. In addition to that the lack of awareness among young female is also an obstacle. The role of present female MLA in law making is also very minimal which further discourages the new faces to come into politics. The female law makers are the backbenchers of the politics who are stopped by a “glass shield” to have any effective or active ministry. This “glass shield” is the mind set of their fellow politicians who think that women cannot perform better in administration.

About Author:The author is Research Officer at Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS AJ&K).

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir