Empowering women to vote

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Something that should have been done long ago

 

A national newspaper reports that under the tacit approval of PPP, ANP, JUI-F, PML-N and JI, women were not allowed to vote in parts of KP.Political parties have previously barred women from voting in the same area and in adjoining union councils. However, due to the ECP’s strict rules this time, candidates have asked their front men to carry out the agreements.” (May 10, 2013) Another newspaper reports, “According to reports, the areas where female voters were stopped included Zindgi Khel, Khairo Khail, Pahar Khel, Kot Kashmir, Bakhmal Ahmed Zai and Nawar Khel in National Assembly Constituency NA-27 in Lakki Marwat and Nowshera. Women voters were also barred from voting in Mianwali, Punjab.”

Hello. Excuse me, Naya Pakistan.

I want to know what steps the current political disposition had taken to ensure no such accords, tacit understandings, written or otherwise, mar the Local Bodies Elections 2015. This is a serious issue and was viewed closely by non-partisan people like myself who will want to see what change has come by Khan’s party in KP. One sad news in this context was by a national TV channel stating that 5,000 women had been barred by the local people from voting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) LG elections. ECP had written a letter to Chief Secretary KP directing him to resolve the issue at the earliest and make sure that the women cast their votes, reported Dunya News. It further said District Returning Officer had informed the ECP about the development in the area following which the ECP took notice of the issue and gave directions to the KP government. I could not find a follow up to the news as to whether or not the issue was resolved. Many would dismiss this as one ‘small’ incident. They will defend the incident by stating that on the bigger canvas one incident must not be taken as a barometer. I respectfully beg to disagree.

Knowing that women are discriminated against more than others in certain sections of the society, sterner steps need to be taken to ensure that such incidents do not take place.

According to a national daily, “In several areas of the province, particularly in districts of Lower Dir, Swat and southern parts of the province, women were either held back by a local consensus among candidates or are not being allowed to vote.”

Held after 10 years, one would have thought that this aspect would have been addressed by the ruling political dispensation of the province. It caused me deep pain that it was not so addressed, at least not as effectively as it should have been.

Interestingly, it was not a happening that suddenly took place without any prior thought. According to yet another news report published on May 28, 2015, a jirga in the Odigram area in Swat was held to convince elders to stop females from voting.

This, for me, is not just about voting. The main problem lies elsewhere. In certain pockets of the country it points towards the status and dignity awarded to women. The denial to award them right to cast votes stems directly from it.

Women have never been considered equal to men worldwide. It was not until August 18, 1920, via ratification of the 19th Amendment that forbade discrimination on the basis of gender that might stop any citizen of the United States from casting vote. Women have organised themselves, petitioned since 1800s for their right. By 1916, nearly all organisations supporting women suffrage were on one platform — supporting it. It was not until President Wilson gave support in 1918 that eventually pushed through the much-needed amendment. It took nearly 100 years to win that fight. Many suffered. Suffrage leader Lucy Burns (1879-1966) was imprisoned at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, probably in November 1917, after she and others were arrested for picketing the White House in support of a federal amendment granting. This is one example only.

The path was rocky. Nevertheless, with a will to achieve, it was finally achieved. The additional problem faced in KP area of Pakistan is based in the culture of the area, its lack of education and its lack of respect for the female populace that stems from myriad reasons. It is these reasons that must be addressed to achieve the desired result. Going after the result ignoring the reasons behind it may be self-defeating.

In an interesting report in Washington Post, there are many restrictions placed on women on the basis of their gender. Not awarding equality to women in many walks of life is not restricted to one nation alone. In India, for example, certain states allow exemption to women to follow road safety rules. In Yemen, a woman is considered half a witness. In Saudi Arabia and the Vatican City, a woman cannot vote though a royal decree that was issued in Saudi Arabia stated women could vote from 2015. In Morocco and Saudi Arabia, rape victims can be charged with crimes. In Ecuador, abortion is illegal unless you are an idiot. In Yemen, women cannot leave their homes without their husbands. (October 27, 2013)

Rhetoric and statements against stopping women from voting will lead to nothing. The continued denial of female voters in segments of Pakistan not only violates the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 where Article 25(2) states “There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex”, but also projects Pakistan, a nuclear power as a state that is not ‘forward looking’, a state trapped in the sands of time and unable to move forward and seek its rightful place among the comity of nations. History proves nations that achieved greatness only did so with equal support of the female half of the population.

Marc-André Franche, country director of UNDP Pakistan, in a piece for a national daily writing on this very subject correctly pointed out, “If women are denied their rightful role as key agents of change in local communities, the story in five years’ time when the people of KP will hopefully once again go to the polls to elect representatives to Local Government Bodies, risks being one structured around the themes of delayed development and unmet targets. Such a story produces no winners. In the challenging context of KP, this scenario would severely undermine collective efforts currently being undertaken by all stakeholders to promote stability in the province. Without inclusive local governance arrangements, the stabilisation objectives being pursued will be much harder to achieve.”

Truer words were never spoken.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Sadly part of Pakistan is still living in ancient times ,I hope we could really see the promised " change " ..

  2. Isn't this a form of rigging? Now we know how transparent 2013 elections in KP were. The elections should be declared null and void in these areas, both of 2013 and of this Local body elections. Only then people will take women participation seriously.

  3. A very powerful and incisive story. You must have touched many raw nerves not only in KPK but elsewhere as well. Such campaign must never end and be made more powerful. Thank you for writting it.

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