Women voters in Dir made history by casting their ballots in the July 25 elections after many decades of disenfranchisement. For many female voters in the region, the dream to participate in the electoral process, which they have waited far too long for, has finally come true.
On polling day, long queues of women voters waited outside polling stations in Upper Dir’s NA-5 and PK-12 constituencies. The women voter turnout in these constituencies stood at 37.92 percent, which is comparatively higher than the turnout in many other constituencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Women voters played an important role in the victory of PTI candidates in Lower Dir and Upper Dir.
In the past, tribal elders and political parties peddled the argument that women weren’t interested in participating in the electoral process. As a result, political parties and the elders of the region regularly banned women from voting. Even mainstream political parties that were considered to be liberal and secular had signed agreements with local elders to ban women from voting. But the large number of women who voted in the region in this election suggests that just the opposite is true.
A new law on electoral reforms – the Election Act, 2017 – paved the way for women voters to participate in the democratic process. Before the polls, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had stated that the results of a constituency would immediately be declared invalid if women were stopped from voting or face any other obstacles in the polling process.
In similar vein, the ECP had clarified that the results of a constituency would be declared invalid if the women voter turnout falls below 10 percent. According to the polling body, anyone found to be involved in such activities would be awarded three years of imprisonment.
There are four constituencies in KP where the women voter turnout was less than 10 percent. These constituencies are: NA-10 (7.81 percent), NA-39 (three percent), NA-44 (9.49 percent), and NA-48 (8.61 percent). The ECP should, therefore, declare the results from these constituencies invalid.
The highest female turnout in KP was observed in Chitral’s NA-1 constituency, where 61.57 percent female voters exercised their democratic right. Haripur’s NA-17 constituency was the only other constituency in the province where more than 50 percent of women voted.
Women in Thar also set an example for others to follow. The highest-ever women voter turnout in the country’s electoral history was recorded from Thar, where 70 percent of women polled their votes. This figure hasn’t surface from any educated and developed urban constituency, but was recorded from one of the poorest districts of Pakistan.
According to Election Commission of Pakistan, a high number of votes were recorded from NA-221 and NA-222 in Thar even though many underprivileged areas fall into these constituencies. The absence of paved roads, poor transportation and communication facilities in many part of the desert region, and the scorching July weather didn’t deter people’s resolve to participate in the democratic process.
In NA-221 Tharparkar-I, the turnout was 68.6 percent, with 72.83 percent of women and 65.39 percent of men showing up at polling station on Election Day. Around 166,527 votes were polled in this constituency, of which 9,341 were rejected.
In NA-222 Tharparkar-II, the turnout was 70.91 percent, with 71.40 percent of female voters and 70.51 percent of male voters casting their ballots. Of 235,340 votes polled in this constituency, 12,763 votes were rejected for various reasons.
The desert region of Thar has a population of 1.6 million. Around 574,333 people are registered voters. These include 254,522 women voters. The senate victory of Krishna Kumari, a Hindu woman from Thar, has fostered a new hope among the region’s women voters. Her election to the Upper House in March has inspired more women to participate in politics. This was reflected in the female turnout on Election Day.
The PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi and members of the Arbab family – who are affiliated with the GDA – had formed an alliance against the PPP in Thar. But they lost both seats because women voters played a critical role in ensuring the victory of PPP candidates in both NA-221 Tharparkar-I and NA-222 Tharparkar-II.
Even in Punjab, the women voter turnout was much higher than the turnout of male voters in many constituencies. These constituencies are NA-56, NA-58, NA-64, NA-65, NA-66, NA-67, NA-68, NA-70, NA-71, NA-72, NA-74, NA-76, NA-77, NA-186 and NA-192. In most rural constituencies in Punjab, the women voter turnout was more than 50 percent. The highest women voter turnout in Punjab was seen in NA-98 Bhakkar-II, where 63.57 percent of women cast their ballots.
But urban constituencies in Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi witnessed a lower female voter turnout as compared to rural constituencies. The average female turnout in Lahore was around 44 percent. In Faisalabad, the average women voter turnout was nearly 50 percent. But Karachi saw the lowest average urban female turnout of around 32 percent. In some constituencies, it even fell to as low as 27 percent.
Increased female participation is an important factor for the success of the electoral process. Without the active political participation of working-class women, it will be difficult to mobilise female voters.
Pakistan needs more women in politics to represent the most downtrodden and exploited sections of society. As a whole, Pakistan needs more politicians from the working class and other exploited groups as they are in a better position to fight for their interests.
The writer is a freelance journalist.