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Chairpersons in a (chair)man`s world

ISLAMABAD: `I went to see the returning officer of my union council recently, who asked me what seat I was contesting. When I said `vice chairperson`, he immediately corrected me, saying, `no, no, it`s chairman`. I explained that both my running mate and I were women, but the officer insisted that the title of the seat, specifically, was chairman.

Amna Mawaz is the Awami Workers Party (AWP) candidate for the vice chairman seat in UC-28. But the irony of contesting a post meant to be occupied by men in name at least is not lost on her.

Fouzia Arshad, the PTI candidate for chairman in UC-28, agrees.

There are `a lot of hindrances, obviously,` to face as a woman in local politics, she says.

But regardless of what the seat itself is called, the women vying for it appear to be well aware of the role they can play in local politics.

Shabana Robin, the AWP candidate for chairman in UC-28, believes that women representatives can understand women`s problems in ways that men cannot.

Although there are several hopefuls campaigning for election on seats reserved for women, only a few are vying for general seats.The AWP ticket for UC-28 is the only one in the federal capital where both candidates, chairman and vice chairman, are women.

When asked if this was an intentional move, Ms Robin told Dawn: `We planned it. We saw that no other panel had [two women] on it, so we thought we`d do something different.

Ms Ruben and Ms Mawaz highlighted some of the issues women face. Ms Ruben is a resident of France Colony, a registered slum in F-7.

`There are no dispensaries, no healthcare facilities here,` she said. Ms Mawaz said they are also concerned with public spaces for women.

`You could go to the most upscale area and men will still try to harass you. We want there to be a recreational space in every markaz for the public that caters to women and the youth.

Ms Mawaz said that they want to increase the recreational activities available to residents of UC-28, to counter drug use among slum residents. She said the UC lacks basic recreational facilities, such as a library.

`We want to make this into a model UC,` she said.

They said there are no arrangements for education or for sanitation in France Colony, something they hope to change.

`We want to bridge the gap between France Colony and the rest of the UC,` Ms Mawaz said.

`We want to improve on education and sanitation in the colony,` Ms Robin added. They said they wanted to increase community action and participation in improving the UC.

Ms Arshad, the PTI candidate, is also concerned about the plight of low-income groups in the UC. But where AWP candidates explained the difficulties facing residents of France Colony and how the panel would try and mitigate them, Ms Arshad relied more on general platitudes.

She said that she had been active in politics for the last eight to nine years as a member of PTL When asked what she hoped to achieve as UC chairman, she said: `My ambition is to uplift this class, so they [can] also have equal rights.

Ms Arshad said the UC panel was supposed to act as a spokesperson for the people and an intermediary between the people and MNAs and MPAs who had lost touch with their supporters as well as administrative and municipal authorities.

She added that low-income groups are deprived of basic amenities, such as food, healthcare and clean water.

`All these things, they make my heart ache. And that is one of the reasons I have decided to accept this ticl(et wholeheartedly.

Ms Arshad said that women were working shoulder to shoulder with men in the political arena. `I think that a woman can be a much better administrator and coordinator than a man.

Seemi Ezdi, the PTI candidate for vice chairman in UC-29, told Dawn that she was inspired to run for local government after living abroad for several years and noting the higher standard of living in foreign cities. She said she saw the opportunity to bring positive change to the city at the grassroots level and seized it.

Ms Ezdi, who is the sister of PTI Secretary General Jahangir Tareen, said she joined the party in 2008 and has been active in the party`s relief and welfare efforts since then.

Ms Ezdi said that, if elected, her panel would focus on cleanliness and plantation drives in the UC, which includes sectors F-10 and F-11. She also talked about installing solar streetlights and maintaining roads and pavements. She also hopes to open a local library and a women`s health club and establish a standby ambulance service.

Ms Ezdi said that despite the common perception about the challenges facing women in local politics, she was welcomed into the fold. Voters too, she said, responded better to women candidates and were more willing to allow them into their homes and maintain contact with them.