Women stand for council election in Pakistan – but do they risk safety for a facade of democracy?

// 13 August 2005

The president (and military ruler) of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is not generally known for his commitment to human rights, let alone women’s rights.

So it will be, perhaps, little surprise to anyone that although he reserved a third of all council seats for women from 2001, Musharraf has done little to back this up with protection for female candidates and councillors. In fact, four women councillors have died since 2001, as Declan Walsh reports for the Guardian, interviewing one of the women who is standing in the next set of council elections in the conservative Frontier province.

As well as risking life and limb, 27 year old candidate Shad Begum’s husband’s name and profession will be listed on the ballot.

And if she does win her seat, she shouldn’t hope for much influence:

“Musharraf’s reforms have brought hope for change to women such as Shad. But in reality, electoral success brings little power. Her four-year term as an area councillor was a Pashtun parody of democracy, she admits.

“During the monthly three-hour meetings, the seven female and 34 male councillors sat in separate rooms, joined only by a door that was permanently locked. The men discussed budgets, water problems and town planning; the women drank tea, chatted, and read the minutes of the previous meeting.”

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