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Honor killing in polling stations


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Though the entire polity, the media and the civil society were present at the scene of the crime and it all happened right in front of their eyes, nobody dared to stop the murderer. That's so typical of the crimes against women, especially those committed in the name of honor. The most common response is 'it’s a family matter, lets respect their privacy'. But since the murder of female vote is about everyone's 'private family', we find it opportune to cover it under a garb of tradition, further overlaid by a robe of religion.

Women leaving their homes and making independent political choices is a brazen violation of the most precious of the patriarchal assets, the honor. It is a collective heritage and thus, its protection is a joint responsibility. No surprise then, that all the contesting candidates and the political parties, including religious, liberal and secular, collude to impose a bar on women from participating in the elections. Its latest episode has just concluded. The responses are a point scoring game if not a debating competition.

The ban on women voters makes a catchy news story which is good, but there is certainly more to the depoliticisation of women in Pakistan than just this.

Consider these facts.

FACT 1: The male-female ratio in voter lists shows an increasingly negative trend since 2002 in all provinces and areas. See table. If the numbers are compared with those of the first general election held in 1970, Punjab, which is more than half of the electorate, depicts a decline of 8 percentage points.

Number of female registered voters as percentage of male voters:

FACT 2: Rest assured that the relatively better performance by the provinces other than Punjab does not represent any improvement in the political lives of women there. This might only be because 2002 copied voters from the 1998 population census forms, instead of a voluntary house to house registration process and in 2013 the identity card database was rearranged to generate voter lists.

More importantly, many ingenious political players have of late discovered that higher number of registered female voters combined with the 'tradition' of low female turnout is actually a gold mine of sorts. All you need to do is to secure from 'the relevant authorities' an appropriate license to rig it. Field experiences of most observers suggest that it is the easiest to commit electoral frauds at the female polling stations. This has for many served as an incentive to raise the female tallies and some enthusiastic supporters of women's political rights forgot where to stop. For example, in the Kech district of Balochistan there were 120 female voters for every 100 male in 2008 while in population they were just 91. In nine other districts of the province, the female ratio in voters exceeded that in population.

FACT 3: The above facts relate to voter lists alone, but how many women actually exercise their right can only be found in turnout figures. Sadly, a gender break up of the turnout is not available for any elections. In each constituency there are three types of polling stations, male, female and combined. The polling booths, and thus the ballot boxes, in the combined polling stations are separate. The routine practice for counting votes is that the head of the polling station empties all boxes in one pile before starting the counting process. The result of the combined polling station thus cannot offer a gender break up.

Women rights organisations have been demanding the Election Commission to make it possible and finally it had agreed to do so in the 2013 elections. The Commission thus had amended the polling station result tabulation form but either the polling staff failed to follow the instructions or the self-righteous Returning Officers refused to take any pains. In the end, we still do not have any statistics about how many women cast their vote. This itself, makes evident the importance that the authorities attach to this issue.

Despite this dearth of gender data, a glimpse of what the situation can be worked out from the polling station-wise results that the Commission had made available for the first time in 2008. Similar data for 2013 elections is as not yet available.

There were 560 female polling stations in the 2008 general elections, where not even a single woman could cast the ballot. Most of these stations were in Pakhtunkhwa. In other areas, though women weren't barred, their participation had been dismally low. Consider for example, the Faisalabad district where 11 national assembly constituencies cover both, a sizeable urban and rural population of the Punjab. The following table shows that the turnout at over one thousand female polling stations was 15 per cent point less than that of male polling stations. Looking at the same numbers from another angle: If a 100 voters cast their votes at male polling stations, 57 women did so at female polling stations.

Women being actively barred from voting is just one act of its kind. It is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, the main mass of which, hidden beneath the surface, comprises of the chilling realities of how women in Pakistan are excluded from politics.

Democracy in Pakistan should now move beyond the notions of free and fair electoral procedures and shift focus on to inclusion and mobilisation of marginalised sections, biggest among those being the women. Otherwise, this iceberg has the capacity to sink the Titanic of democracy.

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Tahir Mehdi works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.

He tweets @TahirMehdiZ

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

mohib ali Aug 23, 2013 07:22pm

nothing substantial in the blog but a provocative headline. useless. since when did dawn become americanised? its 'honour' and not 'honor'.

Nijat Aug 23, 2013 09:13pm

Very well written- I am obliged to bring to your attention something that has been languishing in Sindh High Court for months now. 15 female polling stations in Thatta- PS 85 where shut down during May 11th elections and zero yes 0 votes were allowed that day out of more than 6000 registered females in the area. This matter was taken up by some brave women of the area but our justice system has not ordered re polling on those polling stations like others in KPK. Why this double standard ? Is it because unlike Fata or KPK, the taliban, extremist mentality is not so visible or is it because KPK and Fata cases hogged the lime light unlike this area in Sakro which, btw, is only 50 miles from Karachi.

Gerry D'Cunha Aug 24, 2013 03:03pm

all i can say is practicing 'freedom of women only in islam'

azmat khan Aug 24, 2013 03:46pm

Great eye-opening article.

Mahmud A. Malik Aug 24, 2013 05:11pm

A very useful and thought provoking article

Mahmud A. Malik Aug 24, 2013 05:12pm

A thought provoking article.

Mahmud A. Malik Aug 24, 2013 05:20pm

A good article.

Agha Ata Aug 25, 2013 12:52am

Mindset needs to be changed to the belief that no man is complete without a woman. These women bring men to this life; the woman you are raping is the MOTHER of our future children, just like our own mother. It is an insult to the motherhood.

Can you go to your mother and say: "Mama today i raped a girl who was going to be a mother like you of a son like me." Can you?

Javaid Ishtiaq Aug 25, 2013 03:15am

@mohib ali To me its the message which matters rather than the grammatical issues! Moreover the writer tried to substantiate the article with a small sample of evidence in terms of percentage comparison between male and female voters. I am not sure if this can appeal to every reader, but personally I am impressed with the article.

Malik Aug 25, 2013 10:07am

The missing link in Pakistan is not holding census. Not having census or having one with all the traditional negative tricks leaves everything in doubt. But yes agreed in the meantime women should take part in the polls both as voters and candidates and democracy should move beyond electoral procedures.

abbas Aug 25, 2013 01:41pm

@mohib ali : Nothing substanstial hey, did the writer mention Women bit to much! Everyone who is a citizen in Pakistan has a right to vote and make a contribution to the country. Women make the biggest contribution they bring us into this world. They should be cherished, protected, respected and HONOURED!

azhar Aug 25, 2013 05:15pm

Is voting and loss of life make any sense. Are our corrupt politicians worth that women sacrifice their life? In any so called democratic countries, India, US and UK, people are least interested in voting. Although, Islam many centuries ago allowed women to votes, but our traditions masked our values. I strongly advise and urge, if islam teach women to obey your husband, please do so, it is not worth to vote for rich and corrupt politicians, if you want a chang and good life it is not in your vote, it is very linked your children education. Do not vote.

khanm Aug 25, 2013 06:26pm

Folks we live in a society where money is power, where justice can be purchased, where there is no law or order. Where there is no freedom of expression. No freedom of speech.. Where we are silenced by forced

Tahira Aug 25, 2013 07:38pm

The iceberg already is nine-tenths in the sea of total annihilation. Until a government recognizes women as the better half of the nation, unleashes their tremendous mental potential and severely punishes the thugs who kill them mercilessly for any reason, the remaining one-tenth will go down fast. Wake up Mr PM and other big wigs.

azahr Aug 25, 2013 08:40pm

Life is too precious and particular a woman life, she could be a mother, sister etc., why they took this risk and for what good reasons. The politician are not going to change our life-there is a class system every where, either it is Pakistan, India, or US. I can take you in USA there are many areas and neighborhood where life is measureable. India has democracy over 70 plus years and go and visit India-did these politician helped to improve the life of common citizen-not at all. I advise the best for you, before you put you on line of fire-rest assure, you had vested that energy to safe guard the well being of your children and their education-that were you should be ready to stand and guard the right of children and if you will be killed then you will be martyred. Kinds, dictators and corrupt politicians, democracy or hierocracy are not worth giving your life. If mother had well-educated children that will make the real difference. 60% men and 70% women do not vote is USA-the country who want to imposed this idea to the whole world.

zafarov Aug 26, 2013 06:58am

@abbas: "They (women) should be cherished, protected, respected and HONOURED". Women should be emancipated and empowered. The rest will promptly precipitate.

ABL Aug 26, 2013 12:00pm

Most of the bloggers are Pakistan diaspora living a productive life with their family, including myself. We think in the context of our living standards and practice. However, the ground reality is entirely different in the local Pakistan context. The mind set of our people has not changed at all. Despite all the media and social behavior changes, we are still living in the 'stone ages'. Change will come, but it will take a long time! Almost half of our human resource is non-productive. There is no way, we can develop a nation of this size without the support of half of our population. May Allah bless Pakistan!

abbas Aug 26, 2013 01:50pm

@zafarov: Whole hearted agreement. It's what I meant just didn't choose the correct words.