Women’s suffrage in Pakistan

  • It’s time to vote

There was a time when feminism was all about addressing de facto inequalities between the genders. Then came a stage when feminism started becoming known by its waves, its gradual advancements or different periods of the history of the movement. The first-wave, as it is known, primarily dealt with gaining the right to vote. While Jean-Jacques Rousseau presented his idea of an ideal democratic society that functions on the basis of equality of men, English philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft based her work on Rousseau’s theory but expanded the horizon to gender equality. Winning women’s suffrage was not as easy as it sounds; if the amount of difficulty and suppression faced by this other half seems too unbelievable then cast a glance over the situation prevalent in Pakistan.

While women across the world have somehow managed to establish a fact that any discrimination against them is actually a manifestation of gender bias, those living in this part of the world are yet tamed to believe that demeaning and discriminatory behaviour is all what they deserve. While American women are fighting their case of reproductive rights, those in Pakistan still cannot refuse to bear an overwhelming number of children owing to societal pressure of birthing son(s). And the struggle unfortunately remains to be the same in all realms.

Though women were granted the suffrage in 1947 with provision of reserved seats in the Parliament existing throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 onwards, the gender has been facing degradation and objectification by being eyed as an incapable lot since long.

Pre-partition struggle of Indian Muslims that won them an independent country would have remained incomplete and meaningless had women not contributed their share of hard-work and sacrifice. Yet the prime leader who encouraged women to play their part in the Pakistan movement had to face denunciation by a section of clerics with the view that a woman cannot lead a Muslim state. The 1965 presidential elections proved one point – a woman has to do way more than a man to establish her worth in his world and even then she will be blamed for harassment she faces. Fatima Jinnah also had to bear character assassination at the hands of a dictator along with other setbacks, including poor finances and an unfair and unequal election campaign, which collectively deprived us of her leadership.

The suffrage we have been given as a fundamental right should be utilised with responsibility as an obligation, for the vote is a power

Things have improved since then. Many women now contest elections from forums of different political parties, but the focus of the problem has concurrently shifted towards the voting end. The general elections of 2013 were unique in this regard. Many women turned out in significant numbers for the first time after getting their national identity cards for the first time. The gap between registered men and women voters, however, is too big to be acceptable, the difference being 11 million in 2013 and 12 million this time. Its primary cause seems to be the requirement of holding a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) in order to be eligible to vote. Though this should not be a problem in democratic countries, where those who are subject to policy should have a voice in its making, yet procuring an ID card is immensely difficult for women thanks to the patriarchal nature of society where out-dated customs have remained unchallenged due to lack of education. This bias exists despite ID card being an essential document that differentiates a citizen from a non-citizen and without which one cannot even file a complaint in any police station.

According to an estimate provided by the National Commission on the Status of Women, it would take 18 years to bridge the gap between registered men and women voters even if 6,000 new ID cards are issued to women every day, not to mention 3,500 girls who turn 18 every day on average and, therefore, become eligible to have a CNIC and vote. Thus women have been de facto barred from voting for long, despite being awarded a constitutional right, through agreements between political parties, local elders and other powerful figures who then use their names, like those of the dead, to commit electoral fraud, more commonly known as vote rigging.

However, the snowball effect that leads to consequences from their fallouts can be managed by maximally utilising the resources we already have; in other words, it is high time we educate and empower the registered women voters because their right decision can put us on the right track.

This speculation is based on the roles which our society has conventionally designated to each gender. Men win bread and women make homes and this is precisely what grants them distinct decision-making abilities. While men’s judgement may be affected by their social and peer circles, women tend to focus on issues like electricity, water, health and education. Therefore, an issue-based campaign can convince women more productively than men only if the former gain courage and take resolve to step out of their homes on the election day and cast their votes.

American women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony articulates this idea as: “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.” Women’s sufferings can never be brought to an end until they themselves become part of electoral as well as legislative processes which makes their participation in elections, as voters and as candidates, highly indispensable. The suffrage we have been given as a fundamental right should be utilised with responsibility as an obligation, for the vote is a power, a prayer that can bring about a change in reality.



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