In search of Pakistan’s missing women voters
Quoting the latest figures from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), election expert Tahir Mehdi says there are some 97 million registered voters in the country, of which 54.5 million are male and 42.4 million are female. While the number of registered women voters has always been less than that of men, the current gender gap is the worst in Pakistan’s history, he adds.
A key factor in this increasing gap is the mandatory requirement of all voters to be issued a Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), without which voters cannot be added to the national voter list maintained by the ECP. The key challenge is for Nadra to overcome the backlog of cards in time for the election, which is expected in August.
Currently, Nadra issues 3,000 CNICs per day to women over 18 years of age. Even if it doubles its capacity, it will take 18 years to issue cards to the 10 million Pakistani women currently without them. Pakistan would have to issue 70,000 cards per day until August for these women to be able to vote in the election, not to mention the 3,500 females who turn 18 every day and thus become eligible to have a CNIC and to vote.
The political parties and government have failed to fulfill their responsibilities of ensuring that millions of women who are eligible for political participation no longer remain disenfranchised. Focusing on this issue now, with less than a year to go before the election, is a major lapse in responsibility.
There are other key reasons why Pakistan is failing its women in becoming equal stakeholders in politics. Patriarchal norms that stop women from participating in public spheres is one. Another is administrative barriers, such as documentation of birth and marriage, that are prerequisites for registration by Nadra. Yet another is Nadra’s gross under-capacity.
So many eligible female voters will not participate in next year’s general elections because the political parties and government in Pakistan have failed to fulfill their responsibilities toward them.
The implications of the failure to bridge the voting gender gap are huge. First, in many constituencies unregistered women of voting age could sway elections results if empowered to vote. Second, more female voters could mean more seats for women in Parliament (currently there are only 70 women in the 342-member National Assembly).
Third, women are losing out on securing greater influence on policies that govern their fate. For a country that elected the first ever female head of government in a Muslim country (twice), that is a loss for all Pakistanis.
• Adnan Rehmat is a journalist, analyst and researcher based in Islamabad. His work focuses on politics, media, development and science. Twitter: @adnanrehmat1
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