Islamabad — Aneela Batool Mehmood is familiar with the election campaign drills for candidates.

Ms Mehmood is a Jamaat-e Islami (JI) member since 2004 and is in charge of the party’s women wing in Punjab. She had started her political career as the head of the female wing for her husband’s political campaigns and moved on to become a polling agent for JI Secretary General Liaqat Baloch in the 2013 elections.

The 2018 general elections are the first time Ms Mehmood will be contesting as a candidate on her own.

The Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA), a political alliance of religious parties including the JI, gave Ms Mehmood a ticket to run for the NA-134 National Assembly seat from Lahore.

She is one of 176 women candidates who will contest direct elections to the National Assembly across Pakistan on 25 July. It is the largest number of women candidates for National Assembly general seats in Pakistan’s history but Ms Mehmood is unfazed by the milestone.

“My name is new but my work is not,” she said.

She said she does not feel she is doing anything new, now that she is a candidate campaigning for her own direct entry to the parliament.

“As a party member, it does not matter if a man is contesting or a woman,” Ms Mehmood, who has a master’s degree in Psychology, said. “We only want to promote our agenda and our mission.”

“We (women) are only here because of the new law,” Aneela Batool Mehmood said. “In the past, we would go into the assemblies and parliament on reserved seats and present our points.”

She will be facing off against nine male and one female candidate in NA-134. The major competitors in the constituency are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Rana Mubashir Iqbal and the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf’s Zaheer Abbas Khokhar. The dissident PML-N politician Zaeem Qadri is also running from NA-134 as an independent candidate.

The MMA has fielded 192 candidates for the National Assembly general elections across Pakistan, of which 14 are women. Ms Mehmood is among eight MMA women candidates from Punjab.

She said it was not difficult for her to enter politics or get a party ticket to contest elections. But she attributes the ticket to a recent rule in the Elections Act 2017 that made it mandatory for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among its candidates.

“We (women) are only here because of the new law,” she said. “In the past, we would go into the assemblies and parliament on reserved seats and present our points.”

Ms. Mehmood said the JI’s women wing works for the welfare of women and provides feedback to the party’s male parliamentarians about women’s issues.

“Whatever message we (women) want to send across we would through our men,” she said. “I think the men in the party did a very good job keeping our best interest at heart.”

“Sometimes a woman’s point of view is better than a man’s,” Aneela Batool Mehmood said, but did not offer an example of the issues to which she had referred.

Ms Mehmood claimed the JI women work along with the men to get their message across. She said she believes that women should always support men in their efforts.

“Women should only participate when needed,” she said. “If the men are fully equipped and committed to the job, we should support them.”

Some might characterise Ms Mehmood’s ideas about women in politics as typical of the JI’s social conservatism. Yet, when pushed about the role of women, she said she believes there are issues that only women can deal with and resolve.

“Sometimes a woman’s point of view is better than a man’s,” she said but did not offer an example of the issues to which she had referred.

As a candidate, Ms Mehmood’s main focus is on eradicating corruption and ensuring women’s rights promised in Islam.

“Our party has a corruption-free past and wants to impose the same rules on the people,” she said.

For women, Ms Mehmood plans to restrict the collection of dowry and make sure that no woman is refused her right to ‘haq mehr’ — the mandatory payment made by the bridegroom to the bride at the time of marriage in Islamic tradition.

She said she would also like to address concerns regarding unemployment, health, and education as a Member National Assembly if she wins.

Originally published on Media for Transparency 

Profile: “We are Only Here because of the New Law”

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