ISLAMABAD: Participants from six major political parties noted that women played a vital role in the elections as candidates, campaign workers, polling agents, and voters but they met many obstacles that must be overcome if they are to enjoy their full democratic rights as citizens.
More than 150 women from the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League (N), Pakistan Muslim League (Q), Awami National Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) participated in pre and post-election roundtables organized by the National Democratic Institute to review women’s participation in elections and make recommendations for the future, says a press release issued here Wednesday.
They urged the Election Commission of Pakistan, as well as their own political parties, to remove obstacles to women’s full participation in elections. The participants included elected members of the national and provincial assemblies, polling agents, campaign workers, and office holders of political party women’s wings. Reviewing women’s pre-election and election day roles, the activists noted with concern many obstacles including a ban on women’s voting at several places, flawed voters lists, insecure locations of polling stations, last-minute changes in the location of polling stations, insufficient security arrangements, and a lack of voter education.
Participants also expressed concern that the lack of representation of women activists on party decision-making bodies resulted in favoritism in the allocation of reserved seats while women who had worked hard and remained loyal for several years were often ignored.
Chalking out specific recommendations for enhancing women’s participation in elections, they recommended that the Election Commission of Pakistan do more to ensure women’s full participation, including the immediate correction of the voters list with specific attention to registering all eligible women, the provision of Computerized National Identity Cards to women in an easy and affordable manner, the requirement of pictures for women’s ID cards, the appointment of women enumerators, and more extensive voter awareness campaigns targeting women voters.
Some participants also recommended that women should be identified by parentage and not by spouse so that their National Identity Cards do not change with a change in marital status. They also demanded the removal of the requirement that a male guardian sign National Identity Card applications for adult women.
For election day, roundtable participants recommended that female staff be properly trained, that adequate female staff be provided in polling stations, that men be prohibited from entering female polling stations, that the location of polling stations be easily accessible for women and not changed at the last minute, and that transportation provisions for female voters be made available by the ECP.
They also strongly condemned agreements among parties to prohibit women from voting and insisted that any political party entering such agreements be penalized for interfering with women’s fundamental democratic right to vote according to the Constitution of Pakistan.
The participants also recommended that their parties nominate women for both general and reserved seats on the basis of merit, ensure meaningful women’s representation on ticket allocation bodies, increase the number of women nominated for general seats, and chalk out written criteria for being included on the list of candidates.
To help correct the Voters List, party representatives recommended that each party form local-level committees of female activists to assist in the registration of all eligible women voters. Meanwhile, there was consensus among the participants that enhancing women’s participation in elections requires strengthening of the organizational capacity of women’s wings, which is a responsibility they would strive to fulfill within their own parties.
NDI Country Director Sheila Fruman said that she was impressed with the participation of women in the elections and the work they are doing in their political parties to advance democracy despite the obstacles they face. She said NDI will continue to support their efforts to overcome them. NDI Programme Managers Marija Babic and Niaz Ahmed moderated the round tables.-SANA