The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has registered nearly 40 million women in the country, as part of the process of ensuring that every adult woman in the country has a national identity card and is able to cast a ballot. This is an important exercise, given that for decades the figure for women voters has remained far lower than that for men. This is an anomaly statistically, which has lacked the attention of the authorities concerned for decades. By handing out national identity cards to women, we create awareness about the need for them to come forward at polling time.
It is to the credit of NADRA that it has made such a big effort for this purpose, dispatching mobile teams all over the country — especially to remote areas — in an attempt to reach a large number of women. It has already been able to put over five million women in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on the rolls. This is significant in an area where the registration of women has traditionally remained low and stigmatised. The matter is also being approached in a highly pragmatic fashion, with NADRA acknowledging the role that NGOs have played in raising awareness of the issue and assisting the body in its campaign.
However, we must remember that more needs to be done after putting down the names of women on the rolls. The fact is that in too many places, agreements are reached between male heads of clans or tribes, which disallow women from going to polling stations to cast their votes. This practice has to be prevented. The Election Commission of Pakistan has taken note of such ‘deals’ in the past and the ongoing NADRA exercise marks another step forward in this regard. Efforts must also be made to make women aware that they should use their individual judgment in determining who to vote for. They need to look at how their own interests can be best protected through the use of their votes. Perhaps, this process will begin in earnest across the country as more and more women receive their national identity card documentation and realise that they too have a standing as citizens.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.