It is disappointing that political parties in Pakistan consider themselves above those very same laws that comprise and constitute the work of legislators from their own party members sitting in Parliament. On 21st December, women voters in the Shahikhel Talash, Samarbagh and Darora tehsil councils were barred from voting during the local government by-elections, as an unofficial agreement between the political parties was agreed upon not to allow women to cast their votes. Not a single woman out of the total registered 20,681 could cast her vote.
As per the Representation of the People Amendment Act of 2016 the Election Commission of Pakistan is bound to hold the poll results null in a constituency where female voter turnout is lower than 10 per cent while re-conducting the polls. A sub-section of the same legislation also holds a person guilty of corrupt practices if they are found to be part of any such agreement that by nature of it bars women from voting and hence, violates Article 25 of the Constitution. But no action has been taken by the governing body until the time of writing.
It is not the first time that women have been barred from casting their votes in the region. In fact, only two years ago women were allowed to vote in the local government polls in Upper Dir District after almost four decades. But their votes led to clashes between party members from the PTI and the JI.
Such an act is a reflection of the country’s deeply entrenched social and cultural constraints that bar women from actively participating in social and political activities. In the wake of the ECP already trying to register 12m female voters across the country, the governing body must not only conduct a probe into the matter but also ensure that a re-election is conducted. Efforts to promote women’s empowerment in the country are unlikely to see the light of the day if those responsible to uphold the implementation of the law deny their role towards it.