Women voters

Published June 7, 2020

ELECTIONS embody the very essence of democracy but a huge number of women in Pakistan are excluded from the exercise because their names are missing from the electoral rolls. Last year, the Election Commission of Pakistan had released its district-wise data for male and female registered voters in the 2018 polls, which revealed that the gender gap among voters was a whopping 12.54m. On Wednesday, the chief election commissioner called for urgent measures, including an awareness campaign, to address the issue. Of the 20 districts with the widest gender gap, no less than 17 are in Punjab. In fact, two Punjab districts — Lahore and Faisalabad — account for more than one million of the differential. Of the remaining, two are in KP and one in Sindh.

Despite repeated electoral cycles, women’s political participation appears to be on the decline rather than on an upward trajectory. Consider that in the 2013 polls, the gender gap between voters was considerably less at 10.97m. That the discrepancy should have increased during the 2018 elections despite concerted efforts to enhance the female component of the electoral rolls is a matter of concern. In an effort to underscore the importance of women’s participation in elections, the ECP for the first time declared it mandatory to have at least 10pc of votes in each constituency cast by women. That also gave men a stake in ensuring women voters’ turnout. In fact, re-polling was ordered in a Shangla constituency because only 4.01pc of registered women voters had cast their ballot. The overall environment too on the surface appears more conducive to women’s political participation, with TV news channels providing a platform for vocal female politicians, and a considerable amount of women-friendly legislation having been enacted. Clearly, however, there remain impediments to women’s participation in the political arena that are resistant to change. These are anchored in patriarchal traditions that keep women outside decision-making processes. There are still areas where local representatives of political parties strike tacit deals to discourage women from voting, and then use the convenient pretext of ‘culture’ to justify their absence from the hustings. The matter must be taken up by the federal and provincial governments and at the highest levels of every political party. District administrations and local party workers must be ordered to ensure that every woman eligible to vote is registered. At the very least, the gender gap between male and female voters must be bridged.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2020

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