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Slim chance of voting for women in slums

By Myra Iqbal / Sehrish Wasif

ISLAMABAD: In a cramped quarter, Robina Yousuf’s face glowed from the diffused light that spilled in from a single window as her small frame rested on the edge of a bed. Robina, 19, is not going to vote but this is not out of choice but because she lacks a computerised national identification (CNIC) card.

A dusty television resting atop an old trunk behind her is of little promise, since Robina’s family is unable to afford a cable connection and access to the news and unfolding political events is through a private radio channel, which they listen to ever so often in their modest home at the 66 quarters – a regularised slum near Sitara market.

Robina’s indifference to the upcoming elections is an amalgam of circumstance: a constant struggle to escape from the grips of abject poverty and the anxiety of continuing to live with it, little exposure to governance or life outside of the slums and a general lack of awareness about national identity and democratic rights.

Pending documentation

“Her name on the B form is incorrect,” said her mother, Saleema Bibi, who sat across on the single sofa-cum-bed in almost complete darkness because the electricity has been out for hours on stretch. She explained the discrepancy in documentation is why Robina has yet to obtain the rectangular green card that would empower her to vote, among other profits such as the procurement of a job after she has completed education.

Not far from the slum settlement at Allama Iqbal Colony, women gathered to bewail the loss of the youngest of the house to a domestic accident. The conversation shifted, however, to the upcoming elections. National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) vans have come here several times. “But we are always told to bring in additional documents and paperwork,” said an exasperated Mubarra Ishaq who was married much before she was eligible for a CNIC.

Cradling a baby in one arm, guarding another with her eyes and a third to her side, the 26-year-old seemed disappointed at her inability to participate in polling, and the opportunity to influence decisions that will mark the future of the country. NADRA workers were unable to facilitate the young mother because she was unable to procure her parents’ identity cards. “How could I?” she said bitterly, “They are no longer alive.”

Awareness campaigns

Media Spokesperson for NADRA, Naz Shoeb reaffirmed otherwise. According to Shoeb, campaigns to create awareness among the poor and to educate and mobilise uneducated people about the importance of CNICs, are carried out through the support of local non-government organisations and Mobile Registration Vans, seven of which are active within the federal capital.

“NADRA has taken steps to facilitate the poor and uneducated female population,” she asserted, explaining that birth certificate exemptions have been made in several cases but in rural areas.

Female registered votes in the federal area stand at 0.141 million but if such immunities were extended to slum dwellers within the capital city, these figures could witness a significant swell.

Akbari Begum, 22, was asked to bring a receipt signed by the councillor and an official from the Capital Development Authority (CDA) for verification in order to obtain a CNIC. “CDA officials charge Rs4,000 per person for such verification and I cannot afford that kind of expense.”

National Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz expressed concern over NADRA and Election Commission of Pakistan’s commitment to ensure full female participation in the upcoming elections. “The number of registered female voters is a stronger indicator of the level of gender empowerment within Pakistan,” she said.

Patriarchal influences

Where registration is not a challenge, women’s votes are hijacked by the patriarchs in the family. Shamo Tariq may have a mind of her own but much to her husband Tariq Masih’s relief, the young mother is unregistered for the elections. “I’m the man of the house, she will vote for whoever I say,” he said.

While Tariq expressed a preference for PML-N with the unwavering belief that job creation would be its first order of business. In private, Shamo, a domestic worker by profession, admitted that if she were given the opportunity, she would vote, for dictator-turned-democrat Gen. (retd) Musharraf, recalling a time where inflation wasn’t as rampant and jobs were plentiful.

“Look at this place, there is sewage spilling on the streets and no electricity or gas. We’ll vote for whoever cares enough to change our circumstances,” said Anwar Bibi, who has been curiously loitering near the alley choked with playing children, passersby and cycle-vendors selling fruits and toys.

Source; The Express Tribune

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