As 2018 draws nearer, a whole new debate on the various aspects of elections has been initiated in the mainstream media. If conducted successfully, these elections would mark the history of the country as the second successful transition of power from one democratic government to another. However, despite this successful transition in the offing, there are a number of unaddressed questions that need to be answered and the most important question of all is the number of unregistered women voters in the country.
According to the latest figures released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), there is a total of 97 million voters in the country out of which 42.42 million or 44 percent are women. These figures are definitelyencouraging, but there is a twist here.
Interestingly, there were 48 percent women voters in the country back in 1998, which translates into 46.58 million women voters. But that is not the case. The number of female voters kept on fluctuating in the last 19 years. The number of women voters during the 2002 general elections decreased to 46.11 percent. The percentage reduced further in the 2008 general elections to 44 percent. Interestingly, the percentage of registered women voters in the country increased to 46.62 percent during the 2013 general elections. However, the percentage has reduced once again to 44 percent. This fluctuation in the number of registered women voters in the country raises a lot of questions aboutthe efficacy of the prevalent electoral system in the country.
According to the figures released by Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), 6.5 million women in Punjab are not registered as voters. The sad fact is that these women are not even registered with NADRA, which is a prerequisite for voter registration. If Punjab being the most developed province of Pakistan has such a staggering number of disenfranchised women in its account, then the condition of other provincescan easily be imagined.
If we take a look at the contributing factors that result in such a high percentage of unregistered women voters in the country, we can easily deduce that the male segment of the society doesn’t consider women important when it comes to their registration as voters. Similarly, the lack of awareness among women about their right to vote also remains another important contributing factor. The lack of awareness can also be due to lack of education and also due to the fact that most of the uneducated women remain confined to their homes.
The inability of women to vote even if they are registered as voters is mainly due to the cultural factors, which are prevalent in some provinces and districts more than others. For instance, during the general elections in 2013, women were debarred from voting in some districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to statistics, a total of 15 such incidents were reported. The prevalent factors behind such incidents remained cultural and religious influences. Security also remained another important factor that didn’t allow registered women, voters, to exercise their right to vote.
It is important to note that none of the factors described above have much to do with the inability of women but with the inability of the system, which is one of the reasons why the most developed province like Punjab has such a staggering number of unregistered women voters.
The need of the hour is to create awareness among women from across the country about their right to vote. However, this needs serious work on both the supply and the demand sides. The female segment of the society must stand up for their right and demand that reforms in the electoral system should be made as soon as possible. Similarly, the civil society organisationsworking on such issues must step forward and help the female segment in putting forward their demands. An equal contribution is also needed from the political side, especially from the women that are already part of the system as a member of the national and provincial assemblies.
The real change will only be possible when all the important stakeholders will join their hands and strive for the change in the status of women as voters and equal contributors in the society.
The writer is a development consultant. She tweets at @GulminaBilal and can be reachedat email@example.com