GILGIT: Fears of a possible backlash have compelled a jirga in Tangir Valley to put off its decision to bar women from voting in legislative assembly elections in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The decision was taken on Sunday, a few days after a jirga barred women in Darel Valley from casting votes in the June 8 polls. The controversial decree – issued by 40 jirga members, including religious scholars, community elders and candidates from JUI-F, PPP, PTI and PML-N – drew the ire of politicians and activists as it threatens to disenfranchise roughly 15,000 women.
“Following the hue and cry created by the decision in Darel, the jirga in Tangir Valley has steered clear of passing a similar decision,” an insider told The Express Tribune on Sunday.
The decision has also been put off in light of the show-cause notice issued to the jirga in Darel on Saturday by the G-B Election Commission, a much more compelling threat for candidates.
The notice has asked candidates to explain their actions, and to specify the law which permits the banning of women from participating in polls. According to legal experts, candidates may face disqualification if they do not withdraw their stance against women’s suffrage.
“The show-cause notice has sent alarm bells ringing,” said the insider. “The jirga in Tangir Valley was supposed to pass its decision urging women to stay away from polling stations on the day of the elections. However, the show-cause notice has served as a tacit warning to the jirga, forcing it to put off the matter.”
No vote, no voice
Israruddin Israr, a rights activist, told The Express Tribune, the same jirga had barred women from participating in the 2009 elections as well.
“According to the relevant law, anyone who bars women from participating in elections is liable to be tried in a court of law,” he said. “Women also can’t be forced to cast their votes. It should entirely be up to them to decide. If they want to vote, no one can stand in their way. If they don’t want to participate, no one has the right to force them either.”
Israr urged relevant authorities to prioritise this matter and ensure women who want to participate in the legislative assembly elections do not face any obstacles.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Maqsood Ahmed, a JUI-F spokesperson, said the decision to bar women from voting in the upcoming polls was a collective decision and his party should not be singled out for blame.
Separate polling booths
The administration in Diamer district has provided a viable strategy to allow women to vote in the legislative assembly polls. It has decided to establish separate polling booths for women in Darel.
“The decision has been taken to protect women’s right to vote,” an official said on Sunday, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to media.
G-B Caretaker Minister for Information Inayatullah Shumali has thrown his weight behind the new scheme. Talking to The Express Tribune, he confirmed a separate polling facility for women will be a culturally appropriate solution to the challenges of women’s suffrage in the region.
“It is now the responsibility of government and the election commission to arrange separate arrangements for the women,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2015.