Aurat Publication & Information Service Foundation
Election Monitor 2018

AF’s Election-Related Initiatives

Aurat Foundation has been engaged with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and political parties since the early 90’s and thus AF’s experience spans on two and a half decades. Most of our work was carried out in collaboration with citizens’ networks and groups and local community-based organisation. Main focus of our work was to support political parties for putting women’s rights agenda on their manifestos, facilitate and support the ECP and local government election authorities in the conduct of elections. Relevant project details are provided below.

  1. General Elections 1993: Campaign to put women on the political agenda of Pakistan. It focused on the development of manifesto suggestions, IEC material for voter education including, cassette of songs, which were aired on radio Pakistan. Political parties were reached to adopt the suggested manifestoes and communities were engaged for voter education and mobilisation. Extensive use of radio was one of the key aspects as at that time AF had radio listening centres specially established for women in Punjab
  1. During the General Election 1997: a three pronged campaign was launched.  It aimed to put women on the political agenda of the electorate and political parties, and to motivate women to participate in the electoral process and monitor the election process to protect women’s rights in electioneering. Cassettes of songs to motivate voters were extensively used all around Pakistan, through media, local transport and households through local activists. Women in FATA were given the right to vote for the first time in the history of Pakistan during these elections. The campaign was sponsored by multiple donors including DFID, CIDA, NORAD, The Royal Netherlands Embassy.
  1. Local government elections were held in Punjab and Balochistan in 1998: A campaign to increase Punjabi and Baloch women’s participation in local government elections and their representation in local bodies was launched. Through extensive engagement with the government at the federal and provincial levels, two landmark decisions were achieved; at the federal level it was decided that women seats be doubled in all local councils to increase their representation. As a result, the Balochistan government increased women seats from 2 to 4 in each Union Council and at this tire their representation ranges from 70% to 100% but overall it was 28%. Women were mobilised to stand for these seats and 87% seats were filled.  Posters were especially prepared to initiate peace in Balochistan on the request of Local Councils Election Authority. This initiative was funded by The Royal Netherlands Embassy.
  1. National Campaign to help enable women to participate in elections and mobilising women candidates for Local Government Elections 2000-2001: Main purpose of the campaign was to mobilise women to contest elections the 33% seats reserved for women in Local Government in 6,000 Union Councils and to mainstream women in political structures and decision making at the lowest tier of governance. Voter education and monitoring of elections were also two major activities undertaken with the help of district partners down to UC level by using, the print material, media specially electronic and an innovative strategy of using Mobile Film vans. For the first time facilitation camps were established to facilitate women candidates to file their nomination papers. Women candidates and their poling agents were trained across the country to run election campaigns and manage Election Day activities. This campaign was supported by a variety of donors such as  UNDP, DFID, The Royal Norwegian Embassy, CIDA and UNICEF,
  1. General Election 2002 – Campaign to put Women on the Political Agenda of Pakistan: It aimed to put women on the political agenda of the electorate and political parties, and to motivate women to participate in the electoral process. Manifesto suggestions were prepared for political parties and about 70% were adopted in the manifestoes of major parties. The campaign was supported by The Royal Norwegian Embassy.
  1. Women’s Participation in Local Government Elections 2005: Funded by CIDA, a Nationwide Campaign was launched all over Pakistan covering 110 districts to mobilise women candidates, Training them on ‘How to Run an Election Campaign’, undertaking trainings of their poling agents, creating an enabling environment, and voter education was imparted. Donors: CIDA
  1. Free and Fair Election campaign 2008: The campaign was launched for the General Elections 2008. The campaign brought together a coalition of the largest outreach and human rights organisations to form PACFREL. The campaign focused on monitoring of pre/post and Election Day processes along with direct engagement with election candidates in each constituency for face to face dialogue with their voters. Massive voter education was undertaken to educate and mobilise women voters. IEC material was produced and media was used to highlight issues and create awareness amongst people.  
  1. On the 11th of May 2013: the GEM observation mission from Gender Concerns International in partnership with the Aurat Foundation, sent out 110 observers in Pakistan, to monitor election activities from a gender perspective throughout the day at 555 women polling stations all over Pakistan. The experience of international and domestic observers was mixed together in order to obtain a maximum result. Election monitoring was undertaken in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Swabi, Kohat, Swat, Abbottabad, Mardan, Lower Dir, Hyderabad, Thatta, Sargodha, Bhakkar, Vehari and Gujranwala. Due to the presence of a wide network of the Aurat Foundation at grassroots level, the mission succeeded in having a far outreach including in promote areas of the country. The key findings are detailed as below:
    1. Determination and joy: Despite pre-election threats and attacks, female voters turned out in big numbers often present from the beginning, very enthusiastic, including old age and middle age women, female youth, mothers with babies and children, disabled women, women carers coming along with their families, neighbours, relatives  or friends. Standing in cues from 8 am to 5 pm; at closing time a lot of women were still in line. Given the circumstances, the tenacity of women was amazing. In Union Councils Lilliani and Moazamabad, Sargodha, women voted for the first time in the electoral history of Pakistan.
    2. Obstruction and violation of electoral code: While in some polling stations political agents seemed to have taken over the task of the administrative staff and were seen to ‘guide’ the female voters, in others campaigning was going on inside polling stations. In Upper Dir campaginins inside the polling stations was witnessed. Also in Upper Dir, in the entire district, only one woman was able to cast her vote in UC Darora. In Lower Dir, women were stopped from voting in seven constituencies, and in Buner district women were not allowed to vote in 17 UCs. Women were also barred to vote in several constituencies in Mardan, D. I. Khan, Nowshera, Batagram and Malakand.
    3. A great job done by ECP: Although we regret that ECP is an ‘all men’s club’ , we do recognize that ECP made an enormous effort to reach out to female voters and to set up as many polling stations  so that women did not have to cover great distances (the 2km rule). The introduction of the  SMS facility to find out where to vote and under which number, was very successful with literate and young women.
    4. In and outside the polling stations: Although there were more polling stations closer to women’s homes, the facility itself often was not up to mark:  too small, extremely hot inside, no privacy for the voters.  In another place several mixed polling stations were all in one room, which led to complete chaos.  No washrooms were available for female polling staff as well as women voters at most of the stations. Water was not provided. In some polling stations material was very late and also lacking. No sitting areas were foreseen for older, disabled or pregnant women. As cueing often took many hours in the sun, this led to fainting, sickness, throwing up.
    5. Polling staff: In female polling stations, we mostly found female staff, although in some cases, husbands or fathers were found ‘assisting’ the female presiding officer.  The extension of the voting time by ECP at the end of the day was not received in time by several presiding officers and this caused frustration and chaos: women presenting themselves at 5.30 pm found the polling station already closed and ballot boxes sealed, which had to be sorted out with difficulty.   
    6. Security: Police and security, often male, was found in female polling stations, not always aware of exact procedures. For instance, the fact that the observers could enter before opening, that they could assist during counting of votes. In some cases security did not allow women with kids to enter, which caused a lot of trouble.   
    7. Voters’ education: Women voters’ knowledge about the procedure in how to cast their vote was considered better in urban centres. However, in rural areas and in rural suburbs of cities women generally lacked information about voting. Many political party agents were found taking advantage of this.
    8. Media: The media played a great role in giving women their rightful place. They were a great help in voters’ education and gave a forum to women candidates. They highlighted difficulties and injustices regarding women and gave a voice to those who are often voiceless.

Overall it was heart-warming that women in Pakistan refused to bow down and time and time again said they would not give up until they were able to vote. Out of respect for all these courageous women who stand up for free and fair elections, even in the most difficult of circumstances, our main focus remains that we call upon the ECP to declare elections null and void where at least 15% of women have not voted. A country that neglects its women, neglects its future! 

  Publications Election Monitor 2013