LAST week, the ECP revealed that a regrettably wide gap exists between registered female and male voters in the merged tribal districts, where elections have been scheduled for erstwhile Fata for seats in the KP Assembly. In a survey of 16 constituencies — which is set to increase with the passage of the Fata bill in the National Assembly yesterday — overall female voter registration had been documented at 20pc less than male voters. In some seats, the gap was as large as 37pc. Recent awareness campaigns spearheaded by the ECP in tribal districts motivated women to apply for CNICs; in the past, too, the commission’s efforts in improving female turnout by establishing mandatory benchmarks yielded better results. Alas, even after these endeavours, the gender gap in electoral lists has remained high. Evidently, a lot more needs to be done to bolster female voter registration and the ensuing turnout — but the mantle must be taken up by stakeholders beyond the ECP.
In the past, some chauvinistic politicians and tribal elders have jointly prevented women from participating in elections as they abhor the notion that women can be empowered to make a choice. Politicians, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the voting process, must engage with women in the tribal districts instead of discounting them. They would do well not to hide behind the pretext of tradition, but, instead, attempt to close the large and persistent gender gap by launching campaigns to understand why women are reluctant to be counted in elections. Between educating these missing women about their voting rights, facilitating them to get CNICs, and launching door-to-door campaigns, there is plenty of work to be done by candidates. If campaigns remain male-focused, not only are politicians allowing the disenfranchisement of females in their constituencies, they are also hurting their own chances of success in the polls. After all, in a population of about 5m people in these areas, almost half are women. Technical solutions — such as the clause in the Election Act 2017, which allows the ECP to nullify results in constituencies where female turnout is less than 10pc — are important but not enough. The onus to bring about a change in the patriarchal mindset which keeps women out is on the candidates who wish to represent the people of the merged tribal districts. They must actively identify the hindrances faced by women in these areas and collectively strive to close the gender gap.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2019