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Shocking figures once again

It is very unfortunate that once again disturbing report regarding women voters has emerged. Yes, with the next general election due next year, the Election Commission of Pakistan has given out some rather worrying news depicting a very pathetic state of women affairs with regard to electoral rolls. It seems at least 12.1 million women are missing from the electoral rolls, as has been revealed by the ECP’s director general for gender affairs. Women rights activists are perturbed over this shocking figure. How a free, fair and representative election can go ahead with 12.1 million missing women, they ask. The government needs to come to the rescue of women voters as the above-mentioned report is not only disturbing but also against the norms of democracy. It is duty of the government to get registered every voter, so one wonders how come such a great number of women voters are missing from the data. The situation needs to be addressed on emergency basis. Seemingly, Nadra has no data about the missing women voters. The blame seems to have been placed on the absence of national identity cards but this is still not a legitimate excuse for why so many women have been omitted from the electoral rolls. The missing female voters are among a myriad of issues that the ECP faces when preparing for the 2018 elections. The controversies and disagreements over the new census figures and the process of delimitation of constituencies have already taken up a large amount of time and energy. In all that, we hope the issue of disenfranchised women is not forgotten. The ECP has been empowered a bit more by the new electoral laws. It must take proactive action to ensure the full participation of women voters in all constituencies. The situation as it stands at the moment, with 12.1 million missing female voters, is not acceptable. In fact, no legitimate election can be conducted with so many voters simply excluded from the lists. This also brings up another issue. In many constituencies, women are prevented from exercising their right to vote – even when on the voters’ lists. Indeed, the ECP has been given the power to declare a poll null and void if the number of women voters is less than 10 percent of the total votes polled. The enforcement of such a law will be a major victory for the democratic process in Pakistan. Experts say that the missing female voters issue must be taken up as a national priority for any legal enforcement to be effective. The ECP has promised that Nadra will undertake an emergency mobile CNIC registration campaign. This needs to be planned and started very soon. The ECP then needs to report back within a pre-determined timeline on the progress made in identifying and registering the missing female voters. Otherwise, the next election will remain tainted. Meanwhile commenting on the situation, intellectuals and HR activists have flayed that the voter gap between male and female voters continues to grow as per a news release elucidating that this figure currently stands at 12 million. This presents an obvious disadvantage to all women in the country. They said that although NADRA has improved in the last few years in terms of accessibility and reliability in processing times, its improvement is a crucial area for focus owing to more stringent crackdowns on illegal residents and extremism. Some NADRA processes are still lethargic and require examination, especially with regard to this finding. The implications of such a severe disparity between male and female voters are many. Most glaring is the fact that with low female voter representation, women are less able to advocate for themselves. It is very unfortunate that candidates who support women’s rights would get drowned out by counterparts who are supported by patriarchs and this presents a grave danger considering women’s rights are already in a precarious condition in Pakistan and that chauvinist mentalities run amok, woven into the social fabric of society. Direct impacts aside, a skewed ratio is bad news for any democracy, regardless of whether it is female or male voters disadvantaged. NADRA has improvements to make, particularly in registering more women into its database. Intellectual and women rights activists have suggested that an awareness campaign needs to be initiated. It would be particularly useful to design the campaign targeting patriarchs since they tend to make single-handed decisions in households across various socio-economic strata. In tandem, the system must enable more women to obtain identification cards, which would facilitate enforcement of the same, they said. And last but not the least, we cannot be ignorant about the costs associated with obtaining an identity card, be it transport to and from a NADRA office, or the Rs400 fee for a smart CNIC. There should be consideration to subsidise costs for citizens who can show proof of financial hardship. Although this facilitation process should have begun four years ago, following the last general election, there is an opportunity to learn here and set things right before the next elections.

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