PAKISTAN now stands at a significant juncture, with the names of 11.7m more women added to the voter list, signalling a tangible stride in mitigating the deep-rooted gender gap in voter registration. Recent data released by the Election Commission of Pakistan is indeed heartening: it illustrates a pronounced increase in the number of registered women voters, which has surged from 47m in 2018 to a commendable 58m as of July 25, 2023. Despite this significant progress, a gap remains, evident from the 10m fewer women of voting age compared to men in a nation where women represent 49pc of the population. Over 21m voters have been incorporated since the last general elections, with the male voter populace burgeoning to 69m, spotlighting the persistent need to amplify initiatives that are aimed at uplifting women’s electoral participation. Looking at the remarkable progress across the border, where India noted a higher female voter turnout (67.18pc) compared to males (67pc) in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, we are reminded of the transformative potential of fostering a robust female voter base. In contrast, Pakistan’s 2018 general election presented a glaring disparity with a 47pc female turnout compared to 56pc male turnout — a substantial gap representing 11.18m untapped potential female voices.
The trend continued in the subsequent 98 by-elections where women constituted a mere 40pc of the total ballots cast. Yet, a silver lining exists in the conscious policy initiated in 2018 to separately count women’s votes, offering a focused lens to analyse, understand, and methodically address regional disparities. At this critical juncture, political parties, particularly entities such as the PTI which championed women’s voter participation in 2018, must galvanise to nurture an electoral landscape where gender bias finds no ground. As we inch closer to the next electoral milestone, a concentrated effort to enhance awareness and facilitate empowerment must be at the forefront of our democratic strategy, rallying to not only eradicate the gender disparity in voter registration but to also foster a vibrant culture that celebrates the voice and vote of every Pakistani woman. A holistic approach involving government bodies, civil society, and community organisations can craft a future where the electoral arena is a true representation of Pakistan’s diverse populace, echoing the unified voices of 58m women in harmony with their male counterparts.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2023