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A rough deal for women

Holding separate meetings in Islamabad and Peshawar on Thursday, the National Commission on the Status of Women and some non-governmental rights groups expressed serious concern over the fact that mainstream religious and political parties colluded in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to disenfranchise female voters. In Lower and Upper Dir they signed formal agreements, in blatant violation of the ECP’s rules, to keep women from exercising the right to vote.

Pamphlets were also distributed in Lower Dir’s PK-95 constituency, warning women of dire consequences if they tried to participate in the election. As a result, women voters’ turnout in Upper Dir, Mardan, DI Khan, Nowshera, Battagram, Swabi and Malakand areas was dismally low, while in PK-95 no woman could get to any of the polling stations.

It has been usual practice for mainstream parties, including the PPP and PML-N, to pursue a two-faced, opportunistic policy, supporting anti-women practices in these areas in the name of local traditions and doing the opposite in the rest of the country. Yet that has not dampened women’s enthusiasm to participate in the democratic process as equal citizens. As many as 55 female candidate filed nomination papers for 20 National Assembly and 35 provincial assembly seats in KP – some 20 percent of them contesting on party tickets. Even in a conservative tribal region like Bajaur Agency, a woman entered the race for a general seat. The Election Commission was expected to make special efforts to facilitate female voters as well as candidates and polling staff. It did seem to instill confidence on that score when the Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim announced a while ago that the results will be cancelled in any constituency where the number of women’s votes is less than ten percent of registered female voters. Sadly, the ECP has taken no notice of violations in at least eight KP constituencies. It must pay attention to the issue, and order fresh polling in areas where women were not allowed to vote.

Pointing to another important aspect of the May 11 mega event, the European Union Election Observer Mission said that only 3.4 percent of the candidates for general seats were women. One important reason is the existence of reserved seats; and the other a wrong assumption that the people are not ready to elect them. It is worthwhile to note that of the six women (considerably smaller number than 16 in 2008 elections) who have won National Assembly seats on PPP and PML-N tickets and eight others who have made it to the Punjab Assembly and one each to Sindh and Balochistan assemblies, all have been elected from socially conservative rural or small town constituencies. What worked for them were the two important factors of family influence and party ticket. The two women who contested NA seats on PPP ticket and one as PTI candidate from Lahore got about the same response as their male party colleagues. PTI’s Dr Yasmin Rashid, who challenged the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif lost but not without giving him a good fight. She bagged 52, 321 votes against his 91,666. The point of it all is that the same electability standards apply to women as men. The voters tend not to discriminate on gender basis. Political parties, too, need to get rid of gender prejudice. They must try and promote genuine female representation both through greater voter participation and merit based distribution of party tickets.

Source: Business Recorder

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