That women came out in significant numbers in the town of Upper Dir in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province to cast their votes in the local government’s by-elections held in the district on Thursday, March 29th is no small feat. The province that is mostly known for its conservative mindset and has an increasing rate of gender-based violence witnessed women of the Upper Dir town exercise their constitutional right to vote after four decades. The last time the women here had voted was in elections in 1977.
This historical moment comes at a time when the 2017 census reported that out of 97 million registered voters in the country only 42 million are women — a gap of 12 million voters — and out of which many are not even allowed to exercise their constitutional right to vote, owing to the patriarchal setup of the areas they hail from. Case in point the by-election of Union Council Darora, Tehsil Upper Dir, that were held in December 2017 and had barred women from voting.
With the general elections approaching ever closer, the Election Commission of Pakistan’s efforts to not only register more women and provide them with a CNIC to vote, but to also provide them with a conducive environment becomes significantly important. As one of the reasons for women in Upper Dir, K-P, to participate in such significant numbers had been because of the special arrangements made for them by the ECP that established separate polling stations and a peaceful environment. In areas where such a provision was lacking women didn’t cast their votes.
However, while such achievements are a step in the right direction, they alone cannot direct change. More needs to be done by all stakeholders. To include women in the 2018 electoral process of the country it is also important for political parties to sensitise not only women but also men in their constituencies on the importance of women’s right to vote. In countries where women have been given this vote, profound effects on political change has been experienced in those countries.