The elections 2013 were a shining example of female voters’ participation that not only created awareness about the electoral process but also made a significant impact on it. This was also the first time the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) took concrete steps to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country.
These views were expressed by ECP member Justice (retd) Shazad Akbar at a national consultation on lessons learned for enhancing female participation in the electoral process, at the Marriott Hotel on Tuesday.
Akbar said that the ECP had set up more polling stations as compared to the 2008 elections to facilitate women’s political participation. He highlighted the requirements of having women’s photographs on their CNICs, door-to-door voter registration and verification campaigns.
ECP Additional Secretary Sher Afghan said it was encouraging to see that around 456 women had contested the election. Female voter turnout was 44 per cent and 11 women were appointed as returning officers, he added.
However, he lamented that there were around 500 polling stations where female turnout was minimal. He assured that the ECP would take measures to increase female participation in those polling stations in future.
National Commission on Status of Women member and renowned poet Kishwar Naheed said it was heartening to see women queuing up enthusiastically at their respective polling stations despite the hot weather.
However, she said that the polling teams had appeared underprepared to handle the turnout, which led to a crisis situation. She noted that at least 45 per cent of women from the twin cities voted, but that many were not aware of the process in areas including Choor Chowk and Raja Bazaar.
Naheed said that the current policy and legislation for supporting women needed to be reviewed, as many women were still disenfranchised due to cultural reasons. As a result, it is important to have laws declaring results null and void in those constituencies where women were not allowed to vote, she added.
UN Women Senior Gender Advisor Aamina Qadir Adham presented the organisation’s key initiatives to support the ECP in reaching out to over a million women and mobilising women, minorities and youth in 20 districts of the country.
She highlighted UN Women’s efforts to facilitate the electoral process including setting up mechanisms to disaggregate data by gender.
Adham also interviewed female candidates, presiding officers and voters about their experiences and challenges during the electoral process. The Agahi Theatre Group performed a play, aimed at highlighting the overpowering feudal mindset that often prevents women from exercising their right to vote in remote villages.
UN Women Pakistan Deputy Representative Sangeeta Thapa shared that the mandate of UN Women was to support female participation in the electoral process.
As a signatory to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Pakistan was also responsible for reporting this progress at international forums, she added.
UNESCO Representative Kay Nagata highlighted the significance of diversity, social cohesion and inclusiveness to the electoral process. She asserted that diversity was a collective human heritage whose acceptance led to decision-making at all levels.
The consultation was organised by UN Women and UNDP under a joint project — the Electoral Cycle Support to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2013.