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Election staff waits for women voters at a polling station in Swat. — Dawn
Election staff waits for women voters at a polling station in Swat. — Dawn

UPPER DIR/MINGORA: The women in Upper Dir, after several decades, cast their votes in the Saturday’s local government elections.

However, a clash over the issue of women vote left at least seven activists of PTI and JI inured in Wari, the second largest town in the district. In the past, local politicians and elders received harsh criticism from rights organisations for not allowing women to exercise their right to vote.

Sources said that by Saturday noon, two women managed to cast their votes in the far-off Barawal area. Although casting votes by the two women failed to encourage other women voters in Barawal, it alerted political parties in other areas of the district.

In Wari, women voters suddenly started showing up at 4pm at four polling stations. The local people said that JI asked its women members and supporters in Wari to come to the polling stations and cast their votes.

Female voters disenfranchised in parts of Swat

They said that hundreds of women voters thronged the four polling stations established at Government Primary School Kakad, Government Girls High School Wari Payeen, Government High School Wari Bala and Government Primay School Wari Payeen.

They said that Awami Ittehad, an alliance of the disgruntled candidates of PPP and JI and PTI, also brought out their women voters. The local people said that polling staff stopped women from entering the polling stations at 4:40pm, 20 minutes before the closing time. All those women, who had entered the polling stations by 4:40pm, were allowed to cast votes.

The PTI workers, they said, protested when their women voters were not allowed to enter the polling stations. It led to exchange of harsh words among the PTI workers and activists of other parties. A PTI worker, eyewitness said, was knifed and injured. He was shifted to the nearby hospital where activists of different political parties gathered.

A clash erupted in the hospital in which knives, batons and stones were used. At least seven persons received injuries in the clash. Eyewitnesses said that police did not intervene to stop the fight.

Army troops were called in to control the situation. It was unclear as to how many women cast their votes in the district, however, it was a historic day because they exercised their right to vote for the first time after the 1970 elections.

In Swat, the rights activists have criticised those elements, who barred women from casting their votes in some areas of the district in the local government elections.

Although in most of the areas in the district women exercised their rights to vote, yet in some areas even a single woman didn’t cast her vote. The women polling stations in such areas including Chatekal, Shukhdara, Khazana, Odigram, Guli Bagh, Fatehpur and Kabal wore a deserted look.

“Our men did not allow us to go to the polling station,” said a woman teacher in Galoch area of Kabal tehsil.

There was no separate polling station for women in some areas which also became a hurdle to women voting. “It was not possible to go to the same polling station. It was so congested that even 50 per cent of men could not cast their votes,” said Rashid Khan, a resident of Chatekal.

Although no written agreement was made about barring women from casting votes, yet men didn’t allow their women relatives to visit the polling stations.

“It was planned as no political party sent its polling agent to the polling station,” said Sultana Kausar, a presiding officer at a women polling station in Odigram.

Some local people said that participation of women in election process was not important as they could not cast their votes against the wishes of their men.

However, social and human rights activists criticised local men for not allowing women to cast their votes in the name of culture and traditions.

“The women, who were not allowed to cast their votes, frequently visit the office of Benazir Income Support Programme to get money. It is strange that they did not come out to cast their votes as it is their constitutional right,” said Amjad Sahab.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2015

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