“Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life,” according to Article 34 of the Constitution of Pakistan. But is it happening in today’s Pakistan? ‘No’ is the blunt answer and the case in point is the recently held by-elections where the turnout of women voters was very low. As many as at 74 female polling stations in five constituencies the women voter turnout was less than 10 percent of the registered votes. And at the Government Girls High School Aslam Killi in NA-22 none of the 1,348 registered women voters turned up to cast her vote. There may be many explanations for the low women voter turnout but in sum, this is in violation of Article 34. And as it was expected to be a possibility the Elections Act 2017 has empowered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to declare a poll null and void or conduct a re-poll at all or some polling stations when the overall turnout of women in a constituency remains below 10 percent of the registered votes. For reasons yet to be known the ECP hasn’t taken cognizance of this violation of the concerned law, forcing the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) to call on the commission to rectify the omission. The ECP is fully competent to order filing of a complaint before a court of competent jurisdiction against the responsible persons. But the required legal approach seems to be unequal to the challenge of suppression of women voting, for which the FAFEN said there has got to be legal deterrence and guarantee on the part of political parties and contesting candidates against women being barred or discouraged from casting their votes. How the women were barred or discouraged from making to the polling stations the ECP may like to revisit NA-31 Peshawar or NA-239 Korangi to find out how this happened.

The Election Act 2017 came as a counter-measure to non-participation of women voters in local government elections in Upper Dir. In certain areas of Pakistan the women are discouraged, if not totally barred, from participating in electoral process as a result of some tacit understanding among the contesting political parties, as local leaders and powerful figures employ outdated customs as an excuse. Had we been politically more committed to democratic process in Pakistan such an abnormality would not have been there. Women in Pakistan were granted the suffrage in 1947 and that right was reaffirmed under the constitution. There was also the provision of reserved seats for women in the elected houses of the country. But the electoral gender gap refuses to go away; it actually widens and there are about 10 million more men than women as registered voters. One of the reasons for this growing gap is the Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC). And even if all taboos against women voting are taken care of Nadra’s present capacity will take many years to ensure that every adult woman will have her CNIC. We should keep it in mind that Pakistan cannot become a modern democratic and internationally-recognised state without active participation of women in national political discourse and decision-making processes.