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—Illustration by Abro

Phenomena in reverse can be mind boggling and interesting too, especially if they are about women. I am here not referring to the popular cliché that women refuse to age and get stuck at a number of their liking. I think that’s untrue and unfair as you can find as many age-conscious men as you may meet women. But the aging pattern among women of Pakistan does follow an inverse trajectory when aging implies growing political clout. Or at least that’s what the numbers ‘leaked’ from the Election Commission tell us.

Women as a latent political force are a temptation that no political movement can resist. When the parties are in revolutionary gear, they woo women by promising them equality and justice. 1947 kindled hope among our women and the political activism of 1960s and 70s spread it across classes and transformed it into a rather romantic idol.

When the writers of the 1973 Constitution gave women 10 reserved seats in the Parliament, they put an expiry date on them – 20 years or third general elections which ever comes first. You know why? They had thought that the special treatment would in two decades become irrelevant as democracy will prevail in country and people will be empowered. Justice will be delivered and economic development will change social relations making women an equal player in politics anyways. How very innocent! Or should we call it foolishness? They could not foresee that this egalitarianism will soon be publicly flogged and sentenced to solitary confinement.

Third elections ‘under the constitution’ were held in 1988 and the seats expired afterwards. When the next man in boots got the necessary permission to use the constitution as his scrapbook, his highness inserted 60 reserved seats for women and put no expiry date on them. You know why? The egalitarian romanticism had by now disappeared in thin air and was replaced by a placid and stark realism. He knew that things are not going to change in foreseeable future. How very insightful. And the Election Commission has just confirmed that.

Women voters in the draft rolls are at an all time low. There were 78 women voters against 100 men in 1970 in the then West Pakistan. [In Bengal that was in revolutionary gear at that time, the ratio was 95.] It later jumped to 87 in Pakistan but had been sliding down steadily since 1988. It currently stands at 74 or in other words 10 million or so eligible female voters are missing from the lists. [See the graphic below for more details.]

Are you surprised? I wasn’t. What else can you expect in a country where men throwing acid on their wives sit in parliament together with those who find themselves duty bound to force hapless minority women to convert to their religion. Then during tea breaks in sessions they are joined by those who proudly preside over honor killing ‘faisalo’ and break bread in evening with colleagues who have the guts to publicly defend crimes like burying women alive.

But I am surprised and in fact shocked at the Election Commission’s decision to hide all this shameful information and NADRA’s decision to play second fiddle. That’s step one of their ‘strategy’ to do nothing. Some how they fail to realise that if there are fewer women with identity cards and on voter lists, it is none of their fault or at best they share the blame for it as much as any body else does. Their secretive attitude, however, makes them a part of the problem and not the solution.

The solution can be surprisingly straight forward. The Election Commission is the constitutional provider for our right to vote and enfranchising people is its duty, it can order political parties, departments and all other stake holders to engage in special drives to enroll those missing from the lists. But first it has to face the problem eye to eye. If the Commission can muster courage for such a daring act, it can win many Oscars … err… laurels and respect from its people.

The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.