Islamabad — Irum Fatima distinctly remembers the day she decided to enter politics.
Five years ago, Ms. Fatima identified as a local social activist only. She ran a non-governmental organisation called the Pakistan Hoslamand Khawateen Network, which had worked towards women empowerment in her hometown of Haripur for two decades.
In 2013, she says she went to Haripur politician Omar Ayub Khan, a former Member National Assembly and former state minister for finance, to seek support from his Hazara Development and Advocacy Foundation. She wanted to request the foundation to help her get some hand pumps and water schemes for women in the district’s remote areas.
Mr. Khan, the grandson of General Ayub Khan, was unavailable but his foundation’s executive director refused Ms. Fatima’s request. To add insult to injury, Ms. Fatima said the executive director told her they only sponsored development schemes for male politicians who could bring them votes in return.
The implication in the comment was clear to Ms. Fatima.
“I thought to myself that if I have to face such problems despite the fact that I’m an empowered woman who is running an NGO for 20 years, then how will they treat local women,” she said.
Her decision was made for her that day at Mr. Khan’s foundation. She was going to step into the world of politics.
Irum Fatima is one of 176 women candidates who will be contesting the 2018 National Assembly elections on a general seat
For the 2013 general elections, Ms. Fatima filed her nomination papers to contest elections from NA-19 Haripur as an independent candidate.
Her papers were accepted and she ran against Mr. Khan (who contested on a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ticket) and nine other candidates. Ms. Fatima comes from a middle-class Tareen family where politics is not considered a career option. Her candidacy took many by surprise, including her father.
She lost the elections but managed to receive 3,590 votes — the highest among her rival independent candidates from the constituency — and the support of the Awami National Party (ANP) during the campaign.
She said this defeat only motivated her to come back stronger for the next general elections.
Ms. Fatima joined the ANP and eventually became a provincial vice president for the party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The party awarded her a ticket to contest National Assembly elections from NA-17. She is among 176 women who will contest the 2018 elections nationwide for a direct entry to the national parliament’s lower house.
The ANP has fielded six women candidates for National Assembly contests across the country. But Ms. Fatima is one of only two ANP women candidates from the party’s native KP province.
“I joined politics to enhance the effectiveness of my work,” Irum Fatima said. “And also to defeat Omar Ayub.”
Since 2013, Ms. Fatima has been fighting on two fronts.
The first is a battle with her family. She had gone against their will to join politics. It was never easy, she said, but she managed to convince them.
The second battle is to confront the resistance on a social front. Being a Pashto speaker and a member of ANP in the Hazara community has never served as a good introduction for her, she said.
“People advise me that I should not take part in elections mainly because I am a woman,” Ms. Fatima said. “They think that I should go back to my NGO and should carry on from where I left.”
She said people do not understand that she never left social work.
“I joined politics to enhance the effectiveness of my work,” she said. “And also to defeat Omar Ayub.”
She has not forgotten her original antagonist, who will now face her in the NA-17 elections from the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf’s platform.
For Ms. Fatima, education is the top priority if she secures a seat in the assembly. She said she aims to open colleges and universities in every district. Technical education is as important as formal education, she said, and her goal is to open technical colleges in Haripur.
Ms. Fatima also believes in empowering and educating women in her area. She said she has visited various union councils of Haripur, including Baitgali and Nara Amazai, where women have not cast votes since the creation of Pakistan.
In her opinion, teaching women the importance of their votes is the need of the hour. As a part of her on-going campaign for the upcoming elections, Ms. Fatima said she interacted with locals and taught women how to cast a ballot.
She hopes that this time more people will vote for her.