A view of unsed ballot papers and ballotting stamp at a women's polling station in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Nowshera area during the by-polls. — Photo by Zahir Shah Sherazi
PESHAWAR: Women voters were absent from the polling stations in some parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as in the May 2013 elections, because they were barred from polling either as a result of a ban imposed or an understanding between the contesting candidates that women voters should not be allowed to come out for voting on the pretext of social or cultural norms.
The reports of women being barred from the polling process were received from various polling stations in Nowshera, Lakki Marwat.
Meanwhile similar reports were also received from Punjab's Mianwali and Mandi Bahauddin areas where by-polls were underway for NA-71 and PP-188 constituencies respectively.
During a visit to various polling stations in Nowshera's NA-5, not even a single woman voter had turned out to cast her vote till the filing of this report and some locals suspected that there might have been an agreement between the contestants to bar female voters from casting their votes.
KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak’s son-in-law Dr Imran Khattak is contesting the by-polls in Nowshera's NA-5 constituency on a Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) ticket with the support of Jamaat-i-Islami and Qaumi Watan Party in NA-5 against Daud Khattak who is contesting elections on an Awami National Party (ANP) toicket supported by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam - Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
No women vote was polled at polling stations situated in NA-5 constituency's Wazir Gari, Dag Behsud, Kadni Tazadin, Ali Baig, Jalozai and Jalozai Mera areas.
When asked about the reason for zero turn-out of female voters, Naina Amin, a presiding officer at a women polling station established at Government Girls High School Dag Behsud said that everything was in order and the polling staff had been waiting for the voters, but women are not coming out to cast votes.
She said that it is customary in the area for rural women to be barred by their male family-members from casting votes and that the political parties often strike an agreement barring women voters.
The presiding officer added that the polling staff was not aware of the exact reason behind the absence of women from the polling process.
Sources in Lakki Marwat also said that a local jirga had entered into an agreement which barred women from polling in various polling stations in NA-27 consituency but so far no written agreement regarding any such agreement came into light, similar to those which had surfaced during 2013 general elections in Dir and Buner.
Similar reports of absence of women voters were also received from polling stations in Mianwali's NA-71 constituency.
During 2013 general elections women voters were not allowed to cast votes in Buner, Lakki Marwat, Dir and some other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and some written agreement has also surfaced but despite no action had been taken.
A local PTI leader Israr Nabi told Dawn.Com that the political parties had not barred the women from voting but local elders of Dag Behsud had decided that as per local traditions and customs women voters should not head out of their homes to cast their votes.
A resident of the area claimed that women were themselves not interested to come out and vote because of the local customs and traditions.
A local elder Shehzada Khan said that 15 women voters had come out during the last general election in their village and they had voted.
He rejected the notion that the women had been barred by the elders of the village, adding “if they are not interested to cast their votes, what can the local elders do.”
“It might be security, fear or customs, but if last time 15 women had come out to vote, they can do it this time as well, but if they are not coming, its not our fault,” he remarked.
APP adds: Secretary of Election Commission of Pakistan, Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan said that action would be taken against those found involved in stopping the women from casting votes after receiving solid evidences.
He said that the political parties had agreed that no agreement would be signed to stop women from using their right to votw.
Talking to media personnel, Ishtiaq said the electoral body has tried to address the grievances of political parties which it received on May 11 during general election.
Khan called for action against those trying to bar the women from casting ballot., he said that the by-election on national and provincial assembly seats was the last phase of Election-2013.
He said that security arrangements have been improved for the by-polls as troops were deployed at 1800 sensitive polling stations.