PESHAWAR: Women election candidates on Wednesday urged the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure that women aren’t denied the right to vote anywhere in the province, especially in the merged tribal districts, during the Dec 19 local body elections.

They also regretted the failure of political parties to field women for mayor or chairperson elections in 66 tehsil councils of 17 districts and said only one party, Qaumi Watan Party, had awarded ticket to a woman for that election in Haripur.

Those candidates spoke during the Women in Local Government Convention jointly organised by Aurat Foundation and South Asia Partnership Pakistan here.

According to organisers, the event was meant to highlight the ‘plight’ of women candidates and create awareness for better women’s participation in the political process. It was also attended by women election candidates and former and current lawmakers.

Participants of convention regret parties’ failure to field women candidates

The participants passed a resolution urging the ECP to reduce Rs5,000 fee for participation in local body elections to ensure more and more people contest for reserved seats in the next phase.

They also demanded amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, for binding political parties to award five per cent of LG election tickets to women like the National and provincial assembly polls.

Aurat Foundation programme officer Saima Munir said a false impression had been created that women could contest elections only for the seats reserved for them in village and neighborhood councils and not for general and other seats reserved for youth, peasant/workers, and minorities.

She claimed that some ECP returning officers had discouraged women from filing nomination papers for general seat elections.

The participants demanded of the ECP to impose the condition of re-polling in a constituency, where votes cast by women were less than 10 per cent of the total votes polled, to polling stations so that women couldn’t be stopped from exercising their right to vote in any area.

They asked political parties to ensure effective participation of women in their decision-making process.

Several women candidates complained that their and their family’s votes were shifted to other areas without any notice.

They also insisted that in some cases, nomination papers were rejected just because votes of proposers or seconders were shifted to other village councils.

ECP director (elections) Khushalzada said the commission, in its strategic plan, had been working on gender mainstreaming in electoral process.

He said the law didn’t discriminate against the people on the basis of gender and that if such discrimination existed, the local cultures were to blame for it.

About the complaints about the transfer of votes to other areas, he said votes were registered in accordance with permanent or temporary address of an individual given in his or her CNIC. He said that display centres were set up for correction of votes, but people rarely turn up there for corrections and came to know about the place of their vote at the eleventh hour.

Former provincial minister and social activist Mussarat Qadeem said the local government institutions were of immense importance for women as they served as the basic tier of democracy and a nursery for them to participate in national and provincial politics.

She said many women councillors were elected MNAs and MPAs and they played an effective role in legislation.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MPA Zeenat Bibi said women lawmakers had been vocal for pro-women legislation in the provincial assembly.

She said the assembly passed laws against domestic violence and harassment at workplace and for the rights of home-based workers.

Jamaat-i-Islami leader and former district naib nazim in Peshawar Dr Iqbal Khalil said the women elected on reserved seats should highlight the issues of women from their respective councils, especially about education and healthcare.

Provincial chief of the National Party Dr Sarfraz Khan complained that the ECP hadn’t enforced the five per cent mandatory election nominations for women in letter and spirit as political parties mostly fielded them in the constituencies, where their electoral position was weak.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2021

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