The role of women in political decision making is low across the world, but in South Asia this role is further marginalized due to the existing societal setup. The pattern of politics in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K) is traditional, patriarchal and male dominated, impeding the role and status of women in socio-political activities. Male members of the society are usually the decision makers and policy makers. Even though the females of AJ&K are much more privileged and have better literacy rate and job opportunities, when it comes to politics, they are finding it challenging to participate in the politics as it was manifested in recent local bodies’ elections.
After thirty years, local bodies’ elections have been recently held in Azad Jammu and Kashmir as per 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, and independent candidates did so as well. The majority of the candidates consisted of youth under thirty years of age, which is a positive development in the “elderly dominated” politics of AJ&K. They campaigned on the grassroots level problems. But despite being part of the manifesto, the participation of women was minimal.
Though every party claims to be democratic and to give an equal chance for women to participate in elections, but the real situation was quite disappointing. Of the 9,567 candidates, only 39 women were participating in elections of wards and district council. While division wise, the situation was even more disappointing. Poonch division has the highest female literacy rate in AJ&K but political participation of women was negligible; only one female candidate participated in these elections while 3,859 candidates were male. Mirpur division is also considered as a bigger and enlightened division but only 15 female candidates participated, while 4,330 candidates were male. Compared to these two divisions, Muzaffarabad division showed better results, though very low in real terms; 23 female candidates and 1,378 male candidates participated. The percentage of women participation in local bodies’ elections is 0.40% which presents a very bleak picture. While the role of women in the legislation was already limited, due to the lack of effective representation, 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 the 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 lesser representation of 52 percent of the population. While political representation is an 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 this, the dominant political parties have this provision in their manifesto where they are bound to give 17 percent representation to women and the youth in elections. The question then arises that why the participation of women is so low? The dominant factor that contributes to this awfully low representation is the taboo associated with the politics. Politics is considered as a “manly” thing and a “no go area” for women. In addition to that, the lack of awareness among young females is also an obstacle. The role of present female MLAs in law making is also very minimal, which further discourages new faces from joining politics. Female law makers are the backbenchers of the politics who are prevented by a “glass shield” from having 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.