PESHAWAR: The women, barred from voting in general elections for long, were forced to cast vote to save results of a constituency from becoming null and void yet many in conservative areas of the province preferred to stick to their old tradition of not casting vote.
After promulgation of Election Act, 2017 that required Election Commission of Pakistan to declare a constituency’s result null and void if at least 10 per cent women turnout was not recorded, things seemed a little better as ECP and local authorities checked trend of barring women from vote. There was at least no open or declared agreement like the past to keep women away from voting.
Some people could not, however, break away from their old tradition and women turnout was low in some areas.
Many areas in KP see low turnout of women voters
“Just one woman polled her vote out of 987 registered voters at polling station No.31 in Haji Banda area of NA-29 and PK-72 constituencies,” said Shahida Anjum, a presiding officer of a women polling station. She said that no one had turned up all day.
Advocate Imtiaz Khalil, a resident of Haji Banda, claimed that since 1988, women had never polled their vote and it was their own choice.
Things on the other hand were quiet unusual in Lower and Upper Dir districts where not only a woman candidate Hameeda Shahid contested elections on PTI ticket but women also came out to cast vote.
Although the practice of keeping women away from voting was a norm under verbal and written agreements between male candidates of political parties and elders in many districts, it was checked in 2015 by-polls for the first time in the electoral history of the country when results of PK-95 in Dir Lower were declared null and void owing nonparticipation of women voters.
The Election Act, 2017 also requires ECP to declare an election null and void if women’s turnout in a constituency is less than 10 per cent of its total polled votes. This may have worked in some areas like Dir Upper and Dir Lower, but many districts still saw low turnout of women votes.
The ECP had already assessed the situation and issued directives to DROs and DCs just a day ahead of the polling day on the basis of media reports to ensure participation of women in elections in six districts including Swat, Dir Lower, Dir Upper, Shangla, Swabi and Battagram.
Not only in rural areas of Peshawar, but also in Nowshera, Swabi, Battagram and Malakand women were barred from coming out to vote, according to reports.
Nighat Siddiqui, at the gender desk of ECP in Islamabad, said that she was aware of the situation in Haji Banda, Achini and Kurri area of Nowshera where women’s turnout was low as well as slow pace of voting in Swabi due to rain.
“We called the local elders and officials to resolve the issue. We made announcements from the local mosques in Malakand that constituency results would be declared null and void if women voters’ turnout was less than 10 per cent,” she said.
Tehsinullah, a local, said that women did not come out to vote in four polling stations of Haryaankot like last year but later local administration mobilised the locals to encourage women to cast vote to fulfil the 10 per cent requirement.
In the rural areas of Peshawar, where women came out even in the hot summer in their traditional shuttle-cock burqas, they were under the influence of their male family members.
“I am a sugar patient and feeling exhausted. My relatives told me to go and vote for this candidate,” said an elderly woman, almost breathing heavily in hot and humid weather under a thick burqa. She had no clue as to who the party or the person was she was voting for.
Mukhtiyar Bibi was casting her vote at Mohamadzai polling station in Chamkani, on the advice of her men relatives. However, she expressed the hope that an elected government would be formed provide employment to people. She said said that her son got a bachelor degree but he was jobless.
Women didn’t exercise their right to vote at several polling stations in Battagram district despite ECP’s clear directives to authorities to ensure female participation in polls.
There was no declared agreement between political parties or local elders to stop women from casting their votes. However, through mutual understanding the people did not allow women to exercise their right to vote in several areas.
Women in Nogram, Deshwal, Nehar, Bathkhana, Umaray, Nala, Gangwal, and Rashang polling stations didn’t turn up to cast their vote. Women didn’t poll votes at maxim polling stations in Ajmera union council.
Mohammad Shayan, a resident of Garhi Nawab, said that women did not poll their vote as there was no such tradition. “We are not responsible for the election results of candidate, whether they win or lose. We would not bring out our women to cast vote,” he added.
Khursheed Khan, a resident of Allai, said that disenfranchisement of women was not a new thing in the area. He said that their culture and tradition didn’t allow women to come out to vote that was why no one voted at Roop Kanai Banda polling station.
Mansehra also witnessed a low turnout of women voters as compared to 2013 general elections.
The women polling stations in urban parts of the district wore a deserted look till 10am that irked supporters of different candidates.
According to presiding officer of a combined polling station at Siren forest division offices in Channia, hardly 115 voters including 18 women polled their votes till 11am.
The polling in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under eagle-eyes of international and national monitors was carefully monitored by the ECP’s gender desk set up for ensuring participation of women in the process but tribal districts remained out of its sight and deprived of any such benefit of the special initiative.
However, a National Assembly constituency in North Waziristan remained disconnected not only through internet but also cellular service and could not register timely complaints with the desk.
There were reports on social media about independent candidates and polling agents in North Waziristan, who accused the local security personnel and authorities of high-handedness and poor arrangements that slowed down polling.
A candidate for NA-48 alleged that polling station for women was changed to rig the polls. He alleged that women were forced to stop at checkpoints in Miramshah and walk for two to three kilometres to reach the polling station.
Women in Bajaur tribal district complained about lack of facilities and slow voting. They said that many women returned to their homes without casting their vote owing to poor arrangements.
(Our correspondents from Battagram, Malakand, Dir Upper and Mansehra also contributed to this report)
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2018