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April 22, 2019

Voting gap


April 22, 2019

Despite saying all the right things about ensuring that the gender gap in voters comes down, the voter registration numbers recently released by the Election Commission of Pakistan show that things are getting worse. The gap between male and female voters has climbed to 12.54 million. Moreover, the greatest chunk of the difference does not come from so-called backward remote districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Balochistan as policymakers like to imagine. The greatest gender gap in voters exists in the heart of Punjab. Seventeen of Punjab’s districts make up the top 20 districts with the largest gender gap. The worst of the districts, shockingly, is Punjab’s capital, Lahore, followed closely by Faisalabad, another major industrial centre. Lahore and Faisalabad alone make up over one million of the gap between male and female voters. Karachi (West) is not far behind. This also confirms that the priorities of the voter registration programmes have been wrong. Instead of focusing on far-flung areas, work has not been completed in districts where the state is supposed to be strong.

While some districts in KP, such as Bannu, show the worst percentages, with only around four thousand woman amongst 17,798 registered voters, there is a lot of work required in the so-called developed districts. District after district in Punjab continues to show a significant gender gap between male and female registered voters, with the percentage difference ranging around 25 percent. In terms of pure numbers, Punjab does the worst. But in terms of women as part of the overall registered voters, a number of districts in KP do much worse, with between 22 and 38 percent of the total voters being female. It is not that improving these numbers is impossible. The ratio of men to women in registered voters in a number of districts, including Rawalpindi, Chakwal, Jhelum, and Attock, is around one-to-one. This clearly shows that this is an issue that can be fixed. The trouble is that the performance of the ECP and the government has only gotten worst in the last decade. While the total number of voters has continued to increase, the number of female voters has not increased. This means the absence of coordinated programmes to ensure female voter registration. Since the next elections are some time away, there is time to start fixing the voter gap.

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