In a country where there are still a few constituencies that actually bar women from casting their ballots, it would be more than a breath of fresh air to enact a law precipitating re-polling in a constituency if less than 10pc of the registered female voters take part in the election. The recommendation was made by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs after the ECP secretary acknowledged that some political parties were simply not ready to declare 10pc votes of women mandatory for announcing the election result. Their viewpoint, or so said the ECP official, is a 180 degree turn from anything that the proposal has to offer. Some political outfits are ready to settle for an election result that is based upon a minimum 10pc of the overall registered voters. That is neither democratic nor fair to the female electorate or to the country as a whole.
It is good to note that women themselves have emerged as the strongest backers of the NA standing committee’s recommendation. But if the proposal is to be adopted, much more work, including intense lobbying, will have to be done by the committee members in coordination with the Election Commission of Pakistan. They need to interact closely with the parties that have either clandestinely or openly kept women voters out. Even a reform-minded party like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is known to have resigned itself to the prospect of a men-only election in the more conservative areas of the country. The most bizarre part of the arrangement was that nearly all political forces were aware of what was happening and yet did nothing. Perhaps more than any other authority, the ECP bears the greatest responsibility in identifying, monitoring and ensuring that women turnout is sufficiently high in all constituencies, especially those where women have been forced into submission.
Seven months earlier, a Senate subcommittee cleared the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2016, declaring the process of systemically disqualifying women a clear violation of fundamental rights. Through the bill, the Senate panel hopes to make available the tool of gender disaggregated data in an effort to help identify voting structures of women and give them better representation.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2017.