Growing gender gap among voters

Published November 27, 2015
Women cast their votes in DI Khan.—Online/File
Women cast their votes in DI Khan.—Online/File

IN Pakistan, electoral politics — the time-tested vehicle for people’s representation in governance — is gradually assuming a more coherent form.

However, it has not led to a corresponding increase in women’s participation in the democratic process. On the contrary, according to voter registration data released by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the gap between the number of male and female voters in the country has widened from 10.97 million in May 2013 to 11.65m in September 2015 at the start of the local government elections.

Know more: Male-female voter gap widens to 11.65 million

In other words, there were 86.24m registered voters in 2013, including 48.61m men and 37.63m women. The latest figures show an overall increase in registered voters to 93.06m; within that group however, male voters number 52.36m while female voters add up to 40.7m, revealing that voter registration of women has not kept pace with that of men.

This is a disturbing trend that has implications for the way the country is governed and the priorities it chooses to pursue.

The blame can be placed squarely at the door of the political parties, who are primarily responsible for registering voters and facilitating the process whereby people can get themselves on the electoral rolls.

Their lackadaisical performance in bringing the number of female voters at par with that of males to reflect the gender ratio in the general population is the manifestation of a cultural bias that is indifferent, at best, to the inclusion of women’s voices in the national narrative.

The most trenchant expression of this bias rears its head every election cycle when agreements among political parties are struck in some of the country’s more conservative pockets to deprive women of their right to vote.

Although such blatant disenfranchisement is the exception rather than the rule, the political parties’ essentially chauvinistic culture also comes to the fore when it is time to award tickets, in which case women are not seen as viable candidates for the general seats.

The 2013 election, for instance, saw only 36 women nominated by their parties for 272 National Assembly general seats. Similarly, females comprise barely 2pc of the candidates directly contesting the upcoming local elections in Karachi.

Ironically, the reserved seat quota for women in the assemblies, which was originally intended to be a stopgap affirmative action until their participation in the electoral process was fully realised, has engendered complacency among male politicians.

Instead of proactively bringing their female counterparts into the mainstream, they treat the legislative quota as a substitute, thereby relegating women to the sidelines and further perpetuating the concept of public space as an exclusively male domain.

The ECP must step in, perhaps with proposals for female candidate quotas — a measure adopted in several countries — to ensure that politics in Pakistan evolves in the direction of an equal-opportunity space for women, rather than slipping into reverse.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2015

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