This post was written by guest contributor Maria Salman.
Defiance. In light of a recent landmark election, this is the one word dominating the media’s rhetoric on the civic engagement of Pakistani women. On May 11, scores of Pakistanis came out to exercise their right to vote – many for the first time in their lives. As the world apprehensively eyes a crucial geopolitical region against the backdrop of what was once called the War on Terror, it was inevitable perhaps that when the focus was on Pakistani women, they were depicted as caught between competing forces of modernity and tradition as they took to the polls or ran as candidates.
An overview of media coverage on the topic of women and the Pakistani election reveal the obstacles inhibiting women from active participation in the election. These include: threats from the Taliban, frequent bomb blasts targeting polling stations, voter intimidation, long lines in sweltering heat and the failure of law enforcement to provide adequate security. Many news outlets profiled women, who were involved in campaigns or running for a position (here, here, here and here). Interestingly, almost of all of these profiles were of women originating from the North West tribal regions of Pakistan, which are notorious for their high profile reputation of being home to the Pakistani Taliban. The articles framed these women as incredibly courageous in their fight for empowerment and pitted them against the evils of patriarchal misogyny embodied in the obligatory mention of Taliban death threats.