The roll calls

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has reported a gender gap of 10.4 percent in the electoral rolls. The main reason cited is women not possessing CNICs

Towards the end of the last month, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced in a briefing that the gender gap in the electoral rolls is 10.4 percent. When the rolls were uploaded last time it was 10.7 percent. This means that the number of women voters was less by this margin when compared to men. Nighat Siddique, the additional director general for gender affairs at the ECP says the latest figure is based on the electoral roles published in March 2021.

The major reason the ECP has cited for this increasing gender gap is that a large number of women residents in these districts did not possess CNICs. The survey found that major challenges were that NADRA registration centers were located too far, the registration processes were complex, women faced sociocultural challenges, a large number of them did not feel the need to have CNICs and there was a general lack of awareness about the importance of CNICs.

This gap is despite the reason that a significant number of women obtained CNICs in order to benefit from the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). The situation at the moment is that as soon as a person’s CNIC is made, he or she gets enrolled in electoral roles automatically. So, one can say that the issue is more of having CNICs than anything else. Once the number of CNICs for women increases, their number in voters’ list will automatically increase.

The question here is: how can the perennial hurdles can be overcome and how can women be encouraged to get CNICs? In many parts of the country including southern Punjab, marriages are contracted without brides or the grooms having CNICs. The number of children not mentioned in B-form because their parents don’t have CNICs is also large.

To reach the people at grassroots level, the ECP has engaged several civil society organisations. It has also started giving gender-sensitive training to the ECP and NADRA staff, monitoring the CNIC/voter registration campaigns and reviewing the situation every two months.

Arshid Mirza, the executive director of Baidarie, a civil society organisation based in Sialkot, says that according to the ECP, approximately 10.25 million women in the country have not been registered as voters in the electoral rolls. He says, men in rural and semi-urban areas do not take much interest in getting women their CNICs. People in general, and women in particular, do not have information about the registration process.

He says it is quite a task to reach a NADRA facilitation centre, which women living in rural areas hardly dare to undertake. At NADRA facilitation centres, he says, the behaviour of the staff is never welcoming. Most women says they feel uncomfortable at the centres.

It is a fact that in many parts of the country including Southern Punjab, marriages are contracted without brides or both the bride and the groom not having CNIC. The number of children not having B form because of lack of their parents’ CNICs is also not negligible.

Mirza tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that since 2016, his organisation has helped around 60,000 women get their CNIC. In the process, they observed a lot of things. For example, he says, Mobile Registration Van (MRV) can offer good facilitation in CNIC issuance to the people in remote rural areas but these vans are mostly under political influence of the MNAs and MPAs. In this way, this facility is often misused and the people in remote rural areas remain deprived. Furthermore, Mirza says, when married women approach the NADRA facilities, they are asked to bring along someone from their parents’ family for verification. Because of such hurdles several women opt not to apply for CNIC, he adds. He also complains that the NADRA staff does not tell people about the facility of issuing free of cost CNICs for the first time.

Baidarie managed to provide transport to women from several villages to NADRA facilities and back to their villages and raised awareness through FM radio on this issue. With support from the NADRA, it succeeded in getting separate facilitation counters for women and making the process of submission of applications easier for them.

Faiq Ali Chachar, a spokesperson for NADRA, tells TNS that they are running CNIC issuance campaigns on war footing and making things easy for women. He says that in areas where centres are distant, they are providing services at citizens’ doorstep, and in areas where there may be cultural and social issues, as in Balochistan and KP, they have set up centres with 100 percent women staff.

Chachar says that many NGOs have also been engaged by the ECP at tehsil level. Though Covid-19 has hampered progress, it is hoped that the situation will improve within a short period of time, he adds.

Nighat Siddique, the additional director general for gender affairs at the ECP tells TNS that the current ratio in electoral rolls is 45 percent for women voters and 55 percent for men. The gender gap in CNIC registration is carried on to voter registration.

She says that they have engaged NGOs which are reaching out to women and educating them on the need for having CNICs and facilitating them.

The purpose of the exercise, she says, is to increase women’s participation in political and democratic processes and increasing their turnout in elections.

The author is a staffer and can be reached at [email protected]

The roll calls