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Women voters stopped

That women voters were stopped from casting votes at a number of polling stations in Mardan NA-9 and Mianwali PS-44 constitutes a denial of the equal rights to women provided in the constitution. What makes it even more serious is that this happened on account of a tacit understanding between the contesting parties. If no notice is taken immediately by those concerned, women would be denied their constitutional right on a much larger scale during the general elections scheduled within a year.

The PPP, ANP and PML(N) never tire of talking about their avowed support for gender equality and the empowerment of women. The incidents took place in KP and Punjab, one under the PPP and ANP and the other ruled by the PML(N). Not long before the by-elections Fiza Gilani, the goodwill ambassador for women empowerment, declared that the elections held at polling stations where women were denied the exercise of their right of vote would be declared null and void. One has yet to hear from her or her patrons why the promise was not fulfilled. It is argued that primitive thinking prevailing in backward areas translated into customs which led to the opposition to women casting votes. The argument would convince few. Women belonging to the most backward districts of Punjab and Sindh contest elections, sometimes on open seats. In Balochistan and KP, they have been in politics ever since the creation of the country. The two major religious parties also have women parliamentarians. In any case, politicians are elected to lead the nation and not to follow the backward elements in society.

The incidents have brought the credibility of the Election Commission under doubt. On the face of it, the EC did nothing to stop the malpractice. This despite claims by the National Commission on Status of Women of having sent reminders to the EC to devise institutional structures and policies to bind parties which indulge in such practices. Unless the EC is able to exert its authority, its ability to supervise the general elections would remain doubtful. The issue concerns the SC also as Article 34 of the Constitution ensures that “Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life.” There is a need to rectify the injustice that has been done.