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Disenfranchisement of women continues despite calls for curbing the practice

PESHAWAR: Like previous elections, the woman voters in different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were barred from casting ballots in the May 11 general election as agreements were struck among the contesting candidates and political parties ahead of the polls.

There was a strong Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) this time and no one expected that women would be kept out of the polling process. But after the election media reported the agreements under which a heavy fine was proposed for parties that would allow women voters to cast votes.

According to a report released by the women rights organisation, Aurat Foundation (AF), woman voters were barred from casting votes in several districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by force either through political parties’ agreements or under the threatening circumstances.

It said in Upper Dir women were barred from voting in the entire district and only one woman was able to cast her vote in Darora Union Council. The AF also produced a written agreement struck by all political parties in PK-95 constituency banning women voting. The violators were threatened with Rs5 million fine.

The report said women were also stopped from casting votes in seven polling stations in Lower Dir’s NA-34 and KP-91 including Nafasa, Kamangarah, Bajwaro, Pato, Bankot, Sari and Ouch. Similarly, the women were stopped from voting in 17 polling stations in Buner’s NA-28 and PK-77, PK-78 and PK-79.

The report stated women were stopped from voting in polling stations Kotki and Katlang of the NA-10 and PK-28. They were stopped from voting in polling station Garah Essakhel in NA-25 and PK-65 of Dera Ismail Khan. Women were also stopped from voting in polling station Choki Mumraiz in NA-5 and PK-12 in Nowshera district.

Similarly, women were stopped from casting votes in polling station Ajmera in NA-22 and PK-59 Battagram district. Likewise they were disenfranchisement on polling stations Government Degree College and Government High School in Dargai, Heroshah and Haryan Kot and Primary School Nary Obo on NA-35 and PK-98 Malakand Agency.

The AF Resident Director, Shabina Ayaz, said the organisation had sent an application to Chief Election Commissioner on May 19, with proofs and requested him for re-polling in the constituencies where women were barred from voting as it was a clear violation of women’s fundamental rights as guaranteed by the Constitution and election rules.

She asked the CEC to declare the elections in these constituencies null and void. In the past, especially in the general elections of 2002 and 2008 and during the local governments elections in 2001 and 2005, agreements were made among the contesting candidates and political parties not to allow women voting.

In the election code of conduct (ECC) issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the political parties contesting candidates and their supporters are barred from making any agreement on disenfranchisement of women.

Section 20 of the ECC states: “The political parties, contesting candidates and their supporters or other persons shall not encourage or enter into formal or informal agreement/arrangement/understanding debarring women from becoming candidate for an election or exercising their right of vote in an election.

The political parties shall encourage the women to participate in election process.”However, violation of the election code is not a penal offence. The civil society groups have proposed from time to time that such acts should be made an offence to discourage such practices. Successive governments failed to legislate on the issue despite continuous highlighting of the issue by the media as well as civil society groups.

Source: The News

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