By: IFTIKHAR A. KHAN
ISLAMABAD: Moved by women’s ever-poor participation in the general elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to establish a gender affairs wing to maximise their participation in the democratic process.
An ECP official told Dawn that the wing will have the task of creating awareness among women about the benefits of exercising their electoral rights and to encourage them to register as voters. “This would prove the beginning of their political empowerment,” he said.
A Grade-20 female officer, having deep knowledge in gender issues and skills to plan and execute schemes, will head the wing, with an initial supporting staff of 28, including directors in the provinces.
Already, the Establishment Division has been asked to send a panel of interested female officers for the ECP to select one “for a short term”. The top post will be filled properly later, according to the official. There were 37.6 million women on the nationwide voters’ lists in the May 2013 general elections, two million more than in the 2008 elections. But that strength was not reflected at the polling stations.
Elections remain male dominated as even mainstream progressive political parties agree to keep women away from the process in the name of tribal tradition and customs.
To stop such practices, more prevalent in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Election Commission proposed in September 2012 a bill for declaring null and void the result of a polling station where less than 10 per cent of registered women votes were cast. But the effort failed as it did not get political support.
Similarly, nothing came of the Election Commission’s attempt to collect gender-based data of the voter turnout by amending certain electoral forms before the 2013 elections.
However, urban women proved more active in those elections. More than 450 women contested the elections to the national and provincial assemblies in the last general elections, compared with less than 200 in the 2008 polls.
In the cities, the civil society has been pushing the political parties to put up women candidates to contest polls on general seats, not just nominating them on the reserved seats.