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February 21, 2012

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Women and vote

Addressing a large gathering of women in Karachi, MQM chief Altaf Hussain has spoken of their empowerment and of the significance of women on the national scene. His words to the all-female rally may count as nothing but rhetoric, for as far as the rights of women go and the tremendous problems they face in terms of their status in society, Altaf said very little, indeed. His reference to the need for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui on humanitarian grounds went down well, though the issue in real terms has very little to do with the situation of women in Pakistan, many of whom, even within their homes, face torture and humiliation. In real terms it is unlikely the rally will have any real impact on the fate of women in the country.
But the important thing is that at least a party leader has acknowledged that women exist as part of the electorate and should form 50 percent of it. The fact that they do not do so is primarily due to under-registration and their non-possession of NIC cards. These are issues that need to be addressed. It is also significant that until now no mainstream party has taken up the issue of women in its electoral efforts. Apart from a few passages buried deep in the texts of party manifestos, the question of women being brought to the status of equal citizens is discussed very rarely. Women are too often treated as a minority group that lacks the rights held by the male citizens of the country. As a group the votes of women can prove hugely significant. This has proved to be the case in other countries in the world, where women have swung the results of polls through their ballots. This could happen here. The issues faced by women are many. A party willing to solve them could gain great advantage. The MQM has taken one small step in this direction. Other parties are required to harness the potential power of women and give them the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of Pakistan.

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