ISLAMABAD: Human Rights Watch said this week there was a “large gender gap” in voters in Pakistan, a country in which women make up 49 percent of the population but are far behind men in voter registration.
The Election Commission of Pakistan announced earlier this month the vote, originally expected in November and then scheduled for the last week of January, would instead take place on Feb. 8, a date chosen following consultations with the country’s President Dr Arif Alvi that were requested by the Supreme Court.
As per data released by the ECP in September, there are 127 million registered voters in Pakistan, a nation of over 240 million. Among them, there are 58.5 million women voters and 68.5 million men.
“Out of 127 million registered voters in Pakistan, 10 million more men than women have registered to vote in the general election scheduled for February 8, 2024,” HRW said this week.
“This is a large gender gap in a country in which women make up 49 percent of the population.”
The Human Rights World report said though voting was a constitutional right for all adults in Pakistan, in past elections millions of women had been effectively barred from voting.
“Particularly in Pakistan’s most conservative constituencies, political party officials, local elders, and other powerful figures have colluded in broadcasting messages telling women not to vote and sometimes physically preventing them from polling stations,” the report said.
“Courts have been slow to uphold legal challenges to these practices”
In Pakistan, voters need to have a Computerized National Identification Card (CNIC) to be eligible to vote but despite public awareness campaigns and mobile registration centers meant to make it easier for women to obtain ID cards, many still cannot do so because of restrictions on movement and barriers to education. Not having a CNIC also deprives women of access to other essential services and benefits such as government loans and a monthly social security stipend under the Benazir Income Support Program.
In 2017, Pakistan enacted the Elections Act to address some of the reasons for women’s disenfranchisement. The law stipulates that for an election to be valid, at least 10 percent of the voters in any constituency had to be women. But this low percentage has done little to address the disparity, according to experts.
Pakistan’s constitution permits the government to achieve equality of citizens by adopting special provisions for the protection of women. The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) obligates governments to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life,” including in elections.
The CEDAW Committee, in a General Recommendation, calls for “full and equal participation of women” in democratic political systems.
“Governments and parliaments should reflect the makeup of society as a whole; millions of missing women voters means their concerns are poorly represented in Pakistan,” HRW said.
“As the country approaches another general election, the Pakistan government should take urgent steps to ensure women can participate on an equal basis in the electoral process.”