Election 2018: Women’s freedom to vote under threat

Factors such as socio-cultural norms, agreement among male elders contribute to restricting female voters’ access to polling station

A soldier escorts electoral workers carrying election materials after collecting them at a distribution point, ahead of general election in Lahore, Pakistan.


Islamabad: As Pakistan votes in the general election on Wednesday, women’s freedom to vote in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is under threat.

According to a survey by election watchdog, Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), women in these areas are typically prohibited from voting.

The election watchdog randomly sampled 50 electorate areas in each National Assembly constituency and interviewed citizens to collect information regarding public participation in political gathering, incidents of voter gratification, vote-buying, intimidation/coercion and women’s freedom to vote.

On women participation, the election watchdog has found that 53 per cent of the citizens who reported restrictions on women belonged to the KP and FATA regions.

They included 62 citizens in 36 electoral areas located in eight National Assembly constituencies.

There are also reports of restrictions on women in 13 electoral areas in Punjab, 11 in Balochistan and 4 in Sindh.

According to the survey, the major barriers to women’s exercise of voting rights reported by citizens include socio-cultural norms, excessive distances to polling stations, and agreements between local influencers, such as tribal leaders, on barring women from voting.

In Election Act 2017, it is clearly mentioned that preventing any woman from contesting an election or exercising her right to vote is a corrupt practice punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of up to rupees 100,000 or both.

The Elections Act of 2017 also allows court cases to be filed against persons entering into agreements refraining women from voting.

Political parties and their candidates have also been reported to gratify their voters in order to bag maximum number of votes.

Nearly 0.6 per cent of responders reported 67 incidents of vote-buying in which candidates or their supporters allegedly distributed cash, food and other gifts among citizens in order to secure votes on Polling Day.

The most frequent incidents of vote-buying were reported in Sindh with PTI being the most cited as using this tactic. According to FAFEN there were 21 instances reported, PTI attaining the highest number of reports of indulging in voter gratification, PSP came in 2nd, PML-N and PPP with the least amount of reports. Independent candidates were also reported to be using voter-buying tactics.

According to Election Commission of Pakistan, this is a stark violation of its code of conduct as exercising undue influence to induce, compel or refrain any person from voting or contesting election is a corrupt practice punishable with imprisonment up to three years or with fine up to rupees 100,000 or with both.

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