MULTAN: Of the over 1,400 women voters of Mauza Mohripur in Khanewal district, only one woman turned up at the polling station on Thursday to cast her vote in local government’s second phase elections.
Fauzia Talib refused to follow decades old tradition that bars women from going to the polling station.
“I’m breaking the tradition for the betterment and empowerment of the women of my area,” she asserted on Thursday.
“The step will encourage other women to come forward and cast their vote. Today, I was the only voter, the next time many other will come out of their houses to cast their vote.”
The polling staff established for females at the Government English Medium Girls’ Higher Secondary School kept waiting for the voters but only one female dared to cast her vote.
Fauzia had also initiated a legal battle seeking government’s help to empower women against the polling ban.
Months before the elections, she, through her counsel Haji Muhammad Tariq Khokhar, lodged a petition with the Lahore High Court, Multan bench, seeking directions for several respondents to ensure women’s participation in balloting.
The respondents were: the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the provincial election commission, the district election commissioner, the district coordination officer, the district police officer and the Punjab government.
She had sought that the respondents be directed to ensure the participation of women in voting in the local bodies’ election in Mari Sahu union council.
On Sept 9, Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf referred the petition to the district election commissioner of Khanewal with the direction to take necessary steps.
On Oct 22, Joint Provincial Election Commissioner Ashfaq Ahmed Sarwar through a letter informed the ECP secretary that the necessary assurance as directed by the high court would be not possible through the district election commissioner. He asked the ECP to take appropriate steps and issue requisite directions to the authorities concerned.
District administration officials met with residents several times only to be told that local women were not willing to cast their vote.
The authorities closed the chapter here but Fouzia stood undeterred even though she had to pay a heavy price.
Qaisar Abbas, Fauzia’s husband, said they had been treated as social outcast since he encouraged his wife to rebel elders’ anti-women policies.
Candidate for Mohripur union council chairman Mian Hammad Raza Sahu said he had tried to convince the people to allow their women to cast vote but in vain.
He said the administration, instead of motivating the elders, threatened them with police action which created resentment among the people.
Another candidate Haji Karamat Ali Sahu said that the women of Mohripur had not been casting their vote for a long time as the polling station for them was established 10 kilometre from the village.
He said the women were banned from casting vote after an election-related clash decades ago.
Kabirwala Assistant Commissioner Akbar Zahoor said it was unfortunate that only one vote was polled at one polling station and nine votes at another polling station in Mauza Mohripur.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2015