IN Pakistan, the impression that women tend to be less knowledgeable about politics than men should be removed. Such a mindset is the reason why political parties appear to have little confidence in female poll candidates and few women with electoral ambitions have broken through such gender prejudice.
On Friday last, a Jamaat-i-Islami parliamentarian from Swat, Aisha Syed, announced that women in Dir would vote in this year’s election — a happy change from the last four decades which saw political parties of all stripes collude to keep women out of the voting process in many KP districts. Ms Syed’s observations also came on the heels of the vote cast by thousands of women in the recent Upper Dir by-election — they had voted for the first time since 1977.
This re-poll took place because the previous results had been annulled by the ECP as women had constituted less than 10pc of voters, a violation of the law. There is, perhaps, reason to hope after all that women’s participation will gradually increase in electoral politics, with reforms being implemented and political parties inducting more women candidates.
Besides patriarchy holding women back, there are other reasons why they are less likely to vote — if they believe their voices are not going to effect change; and if they are sidelined by political parties. For this to change, the ECP must not only be proactive in registering women voters, it must also ensure separate polling booths, security and transport to polling stations for them.
And it must warn known offenders against deliberately disenfranchising women. Party leaderships have yet to focus on the value of female enfranchisement, and to increase the recruitment of women candidates from diverse backgrounds. If this were to happen, female constituents would know that lawmakers take the need to increase their representation in government seriously.
Bringing women to the polls is a winning formula for all parties because women without political affiliations will remain undecided voters until the end; and they do respond well to issue-based concerns.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2018