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EDITORIAL: The trend is encouraging, indeed. According to a press report, for the first time the voter data shows narrowing down of the gender gap by a significant 12. 41 million. In July of the current year the total number of voters was 112.39 million of which 62.55 (55.66 percent) were male and 51.66 (44.34%) were females, indicating a 12.72 million gap. Since then another 3.28 million people have been added to the voters’ lists, more of them women than men. As per the latest data, a total of 115.57 voters comprise 64.07 million (55%) males and 51.66 million females, further narrowing down the gender disparity from 12.72 percent to 12.41 percent.

While the increase in the number of women voters is a hopeful sign, it does not necessarily guarantee greater participation in the electoral process. There have been several instances in the past when registered women voters were prevented from exercising their constitutional right in the name of tradition. In Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for instance, even the mainstream parties like the PPP and PML-N cut deals with local influentials to keep women from casting their votes. The same patriarchal attitudes have been on display in certain areas of Punjab as well, such as Dhumal village located not very far from Rawalpindi and the national capital, Islamabad. It’s been a while since a clause was incorporated in the Election Law stipulating that if the turnout of women voters is less than ten percent of the total votes polled in a constituency the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may presume that the women were restrained though an agreement from casing their votes, and may declare polling at one or more polling stations or election in the whole constituency as void, ordering fresh polls. Unfortunately, the law remains largely unimplemented, though following the last elections the ECP did declare invalid the result in one KP constituency on grounds of low female voters turnout.

Things have improved somewhat, but a lot more needs to be done. Be that as it may, the ECP’s gender affairs wing deserves praise for taking some concrete steps with a view to increasing the participation of women in electoral roll process. It has, for example, introduced a column in Form-XIV (Statement of the Count) requiring information on the number of women voters who cast their votes at each polling station. But ECP needs to ensure that more and more women get enfranchised. Also, the political parties have a responsibility to help create an environment conducive for women not only to vote but also stand as candidates. Creditably for it, for the 2018 elections the PTI gave its ticket to a woman, Hameeda Shahid, to contest a KP Assembly seat from the traditionalist-conservative bastion of Upper Dir. Although she lost to her PPP opponent, her candidature may have given the confidence to others to come forward and play their role in the democratic process. For now, the new voter data is an important development in that direction.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020