THE change in the offing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa may be due more to reasons of hard-nosed electioneering than altruism, but it is certainly very welcome. Areas such as parts of Malakand division, the outskirts of Peshawar and Upper and Lower Dir have historically resisted women casting their vote; indeed, there are some places where women have never voted at all. This is because tribal elders or jirgas decree that the women in their area will not vote. Either cultural norms are cited for this decision or contesting candidates settle the point among themselves. This time, however, no such agreements have so far surfaced anywhere; in fact, there seems to be a concerted push towards encouraging women to participate in the upcoming elections. The two major mainstream religious parties, the JI and the JUI-F, are running an active campaign across the province to address female voters and win over their vote. Indeed, the latter is holding a Khawateen Ijtema, or a women’s meeting, on Sunday in the Talash area of Lower Dir, while the JI is running door-to-door campaigns across the province to connect with female voters.
Conservative though these parties are — although the JI has an active women’s wing — it is nevertheless to their credit that they have not attempted to disenfranchise women. This is crucial in the context of KP politics. If norms are to change, this is the starting point, and it would be a step in the right direction for the Election Commission of Pakistan to set up, where advisable, separate polling stations for women, as has been decided for areas such as Talash, Timergara and Mayaar. Moreover, the electoral statistics collected should include gender-specific data so that women’s voting patterns can be studied and their choices taken into account.