By: Dr Farzana Bari
Women’s historic exclusion from the formal arena of politics as voters, candidates and as pubic representatives has been the hallmark of the political culture of this country. Despite a number of national and international commitments on gender equality, the gender gap in politics continues. Efforts have been made to increase women’s participation in politics through the gender quota and improved arrangements for registration of women voters. Resultantly, the gap has narrowed, but Pakistan is far from achieving a gender balance where political participation and representation of women is concerned.
The male domination of the political parties is a great structural barrier to women’s effective political participation. Women are often confined to parties’ “women’s wings” or are placed at lower rungs in the hierarchies of political parties. They are not given decision-making positions due to a lack of political skills and they are not given a party ticket to contest in elections because of their low economic and social status.
To claim political space on an equal basis, women need to understand their power as voters. The active participation of women in elections as voters can make an impact on the mindset, approach and priorities of political parties. Therefore, the first step to bridge the gender gap in politics is to ensure that all eligible female voters are registered on the electoral rolls.
The release of the latest electoral rolls by the Election Commission of Pakistan with the deficit of twenty million eligible voters, of which 12 million consists of women, is a matter of grave concern. Despite consistent and substantive technical and financial support given to the Election Commission by the government and international donor agencies, the gap in the eligible and registered voters in the latest electoral roll is unacceptably wide. Clearly, more women are going to be disenfranchised in the upcoming polls.
The gender gap in voter lists varies across provinces, with overall 57 percent male voters registered, compared to 43 percent female voters. There is not a single province where registration of women voters either exceeds the number of registered male voters or reflects gender balance in the electoral rolls. The worst gender gap is in Balochistan and Fata, where almost half of women eligible voters are not accounted for on the electoral rolls. In Sindh one-third of women voters are not registered. In Kyber-Pukhtunkhwa and Punjab one-fourth of them are unregistered.
According to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), eighty percent of women have been issued CNICs. Twenty percent of women in the country are even without basic citizenship identification.
Although it appears to be a daunting task for the Election Commission to register all twenty million missing voters prior to the national election, there is still time to accomplish the job through a well-coordinated multi-institutional approach and a better strategy.
According to Nadra 37,715,165 women have been registered as citizens till April 12, 2012, whereas the Election Commission has registered 36,591,259 women voters on the electoral rolls. The deficit amounts to 1,123,806 women who have CNICs but are not registered on the electoral roll.
Similarly, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has the data of almost three million women who they registered as eligible to receive support from the BISP but they did not have CNICs. These women are identifiable and can be reached for their registration as voters.
The collaboration between Nadra, the BISP and the ECP is critically important for making an electoral roll to enable that all eligible voters will be able to exercise their right to vote.
The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has given extremely useful and doable suggestions in its press release issues on August 8. It has suggested amendments in registration rules to facilitate the voters to do addition and correction in the electoral role through the “one-stop-shop” that should be established at the union council level. Also, it is recommended that Nadra should be able to register people as voters at the time of issuing CNIC through making a change in the registration rules.
A comprehensive and error-free electoral roll is fundamental for the transparency and legitimacy of the election. It is hoped that under the leadership of Justice (r) G Fakhrudin Ebrahim, the Election Commission will work with new vigour and vitality. It should take a lead in seeking active collaboration and cooperation from government institutions, civil society and political parties to ensure that all twenty million missing voters can be registered on electoral rolls.
Other challenging tasks that the election commission faces are (a) deletion of dead voters on the electoral rolls, (b) 11 million voters as FAFEN claims are registered in places where they do not reside, (c) Identity Cards of women that do not carry the bearers’ photographs.
It is urged that the EC develop a comprehensive multi-institutional strategy to address these challenges effectively and efficiently, and without further delay.