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Women politicians still facing numerous obstacles

ISLAMABAD – Though women have played a pivotal role in the electoral process but they are still facing numerous obstacles in exercising their democratic right, said women political workers from six major political parties.

Participants from major political parties noted that women played a vital role in the elections as candidates, campaign workers, polling agents and voters but they met many obstacles that must be overcome if the women folk have to enjoy their full democratic rights as citizens.

They urged the Election Commission of Pakistan as well as their own political parties to remove obstacles to women’s full participation in elections.

More than 150 women from the PPP, PML-N, PML-Q, ANP, MQM and JUI-F participated in pre and post-election roundtables organised by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to review women’s participation in elections and make recommendations for the future.

The participants included elected members of the national and provincial assemblies, polling agents, campaign workers and office-holders of political party women’s wings.

Reviewing women’s pre-election and election day role, the activists noted with concern many obstacles, including a ban on women’s voting at several places, flawed voters lists, insecure locations of polling stations, last-minute changes in the location of polling stations, insufficient security arrangements and a lack of voter education.

The participants also expressed concern that the lack of representation of women activists on party decision-making bodies resulted in favouritism in the allocation of reserved seats while women who had worked hard and remained loyal for several years were generally ignored.

Chalking out specific recommendations for enhancing women’s participation in elections, they recommended that the Election Commission of Pakistan should do more to ensure women’s full participation, including the immediate correction of the voters list with specific attention to registering all eligible women, the provision of Computerised National Identity Cards to women in an easy and affordable manner, the requirement of pictures for women’s ID cards, the appointment of women enumerators and more extensive voter awareness campaigns targeting women voters.

Some participants also recommended that women should be identified by parentage and not by spouse so that their National Identity Cards do not change with a change in marital status. They also demanded the removal of the requirement that a male guardian sign National Identity Card applications for adult women.

For election day, roundtable participants recommended that female staff be properly trained, that adequate female staff be provided in polling stations, that men be prohibited from entering female polling stations, that the location of polling stations be easily accessible for women and not changed at the last minute and that transportation provisions for female voters be made available by the ECP.

They also strongly condemned agreements among parties to prohibit women from voting and insisted that any political party entering such agreements be penalised for interfering with women’s fundamental democratic right to vote according to the Constitution of Pakistan.

The participants also recommended that their parties should nominate women for both general and reserved seats on the basis of merit, ensure meaningful women’s representation on ticket allocation bodies, increase the number of women nominated for general seats and chalk out written criteria for being included on the list of candidates.

To help correct the voters list, party representatives recommended that each party should form local-level committees of female activists to assist in the registration of all eligible women voters.

Meanwhile, there was consensus among the participants that enhancing women’s participation in elections required strengthening of the organisational capacity of women’s wings that was a responsibility they would strive to fulfil within their own parties.

The NDI Country Director, Sheila Fruman, said that she was impressed with the participation of women in the elections and the work they were doing in their political parties to advance democracy despite the obstacles they face. The NDI Programme Managers, Marija Babic and Niaz Ahmed, moderated the roundtables.
Source: The Nation
Date:4/10/2008

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