Aurat Publication & Information Service Foundation
Election Monitor 2013

Articles on Women in Election 2013


Description: Daily Times

Friday, April 26, 2013

COMMENT :A sorry state of affairs — Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq
Description:, there is a recognition for enlarged and visible participation of women in any dialogue, whether on peace, stability, security or on economic and social development

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) released the district-wise data of male and female voters in the country, last week. There are 86,189,802 registered voters in Pakistan, 48,592,387 of these are males while 37,597,415 are females; roughly calculated, this means nearly 44 percent of the total eligible, registered voters are women.

According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2012, published by the World Economic Forum, Pakistan ranked second from the bottom or alternatively had the distinction of coming 134 out of 135 countries! The Global Gender Gap Index examines the gap between both sexes (gender disparity) in four fundamental categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.

A Gender Election Monitoring (GEM) Cell set up by the Aurat Foundation (AF) to collect, process and disseminate gender-based information in the general election 2013, has developed material for awareness of women politicians as well as women voters. The AF has been urging women to apply for postal ballots as it apprehends that over 0.2 million women on election duty, who have been engaged as Presiding Officers, Assistant Presiding Officers and Polling Officers, or are performing security duties during elections or have been appointed as members of 400 monitoring teams formed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to oversee campaigning and actual polling of elections, may be deprived from casting their vote.

The ECP has extended the facility of a postal ballot to prisoners, government officials, members of the armed forces, holders of public offices, and their wives and children stationed at a place other than the constituency where their votes are registered. Simply said, a woman is eligible to cast her vote through the postal ballot if she is: in the service of Pakistan or holds any public office, is deemed to be resident in the electoral area where she is posted; the wife of any such person who is in the service of Pakistan; detained in prison or held in other custody at any place in Pakistan, or has been appointed by a Returning Officer including police personnel for the performance of any duty in connection with the general election at a polling station other than the one at which she is eligible to cast her vote.

The ECP is a body under a constitutional duty to organise and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that it is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and ensure that corrupt practices are guarded against. However, it is interesting to note that none of the five ECP members are females, despite 44 percent of registered voters being female. Would it not have been appropriate to have two female members on the ECP, in line with the voter percentage and even otherwise?

With women comprising 50 percent of the global population and of Pakistan’s population, they are seriously under-represented in the political arena, both ours and globally. For true democracy — not the sham or the ‘revenge’ kind — to sustain and deliver, it is essential that women have equal representation as political leaders, voters and elected officials. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) aptly puts forward the reasons women should be supported worldwide, as they are “highly committed to promoting national and local policies that address the socio-economic and political challenges facing women, children and disadvantaged groups; are particularly effective in promoting honest government. Countries where women are supported as leaders and at the ballot box have a correspondingly low level of corruption; strongly committed to peace building, as they often disproportionately suffer the consequences of armed conflict. Reconstruction and reconciliation efforts take root more quickly and are more sustainable when women are involved. By helping women become participating members of a democracy, one can look to mitigate conflicts or stop conflicts before they begin; strongly linked to positive developments in education, infrastructure and health standards at the local level. Where rates of gender development and empowerment are higher, human rates of development and standards of living are also higher.”

Increasingly, there is a recognition for enlarged and visible participation of women in any dialogue, whether on peace, stability, security or on economic and social development, as a means of increasing success of these efforts. The Constitution provides that out of 332 national assembly seats, 60 will be reserved for women, as under-representation of women in the parliament impacts them in policy making. It is virtually impossible for an ordinary woman to contest the general elections: the lack of access to resources to lead an election campaign; the exclusion of women from a male-dominated arena, which decides who receives a ticket; the low turnout of women during voting due to social pressures, in violation of applicable laws all negatively impact women. In a system where political representation is based on buying and selling, on trading in influence, illegal gratification, tendering of gifts and other corrupt practices women are at an immense disadvantage. Women are also affected by embezzlement of funds meant for developmental projects and economic uplift by the political players. A Report by the Transparency International maintains that men and women are affected by corruption differently, which strengthens and promotes the existing gender-based inequalities. Women are excluded from the decision making organisations and bodies because of their inaccessibility in political and economic arena, or the corridors of power.

Unfortunately, the nominations of women for the reserved seats are also done on the basis of affiliation and ‘connections’; nepotism and favouritismis rife and the ordinary workers of the parties are neglected. If the women sitting in parliaments belong to the ‘elite’ classes, feudal and capitalist backgrounds, what guarantee is there that they will work for the promotion and betterment of the ordinary women? Are these women not the ones who employ other disadvantaged women in their personal businesses and homes at wages that do not even match the legally mandated minimum? While working on the domestic violence bill for the Punjab, we met strong opposition from this particular group of women — elected, non-elected, nominated and general — to exclude domestic workers from the proposed protective ambit of the law. Many a times I have seen this particular brand of women employ child domestic labour; worst scenes can be witnessed at restaurants when these malnourished, poorly dressed children cater to their ‘charges’, without being fed themselves.

Another problem that came to light as I spoke to former female legislators was the attitude of their male counterparts; women were degraded, taunted and their opinions dismissed, and resultantly, they were left with a mere puppet-role. In a country where education is scarce, literacy doubtful, enlightenment still a utopian word, if filling one’s own coffers is the sole purpose of a democracy, why should not women be given an equal chance? But, research suggests that inclusion of women in politics is a factor in curbing corruption, but that would mean a sizeable representation and from all strata of society. Even otherwise, how can a handful of elite represent the masses of Pakistan, when their interests are diametrically opposed? While precious little is being done to encourage women to vote, certain segments are pledging not to allow them to do so; Pakistan can only be ransomed through an educated and enlightened vote- by both sexes.

A friend posted: “In a country where people worry more about their shoes outside the mosque rather than their sins, it will make no difference who will become the new prime minister and President.” It pains me to say, realistically and practically, we are in a sorry state of affairs.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court