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Women Barred From Voting in By-elections in Some Parts of Pakistan

Reports are trickling in that female voters are being barred in several areas from casting their vote in the ongoing Pakistan by-elections for 41 national and provincial assembly seats in four provinces and Islamabad.

During the Pakistan general elections back in May, the overwhelming voter turnout was a truly heartening sight. It reaffirmed the faith of the masses in the democratic process. However, the overall turnout of the women was rather abysmal, thanks to the political parties in different areas who colluded to keep the female vote out of the ballot.

The same trend can be discerned during the ongoing special elections. According to Indian news portal Niticentral, the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had warned that it would kidnap or kill women of Hangu in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa who took part in the poll. Online news portal News Pakistan reported that political and religious parties barred women in parts of Nowshehra district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Phalia in Punjab today during the vote.

A man is casting his vote in Islamabad during by-elections. Image by Shiraz Hassan. Copyright Demotix (22/8/2013)

A man is casting his vote in Islamabad during by-elections. Image by Shiraz Hassan. Copyright Demotix (22/8/2013)

PakVotes, a project monitoring the fairness of by-elections, tweeted on August 22, 2013:

Marvi Sirmed, a well-known civil society activist, cited many areas where females were being barred from polling stations:

She further observed:

Sanam Jung, a notable VJ, specifically cited the NA-254 constituency, Karachi and the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party there:

A field monitor of Pak Votes was able to obtain a joint agreement between agents at a specific polling station in Mardan. The agreement stated that women wouldn't be allowed to cast their votes in the said polling station. An image of the agreement is posted below:

DSCF0051

Image Courtesy: PakVotes

The document translates as follows: “All three agents in Government Primary School, Shah Butt Khel, Umarabad, have reached the joint decision that women wouldn't be allowed to cast their votes and that no one will take any legal action over this.”

Candidates Agents Signature
Jamshed Khan Mahmand Amjad Ali <Signed>
Zakaullah Khan Qari Farman <Signed>
Fazl Rabbai Advocate Ibn-e-Ameen <Signed>

The paper is then signed by presiding officer Bashir Ahmed on August 22, 2013.

Urban areas in Pakistan were somewhat of a contrast where many women cast their vote for the first time during by-elections, as was also witnessed during the general elections.

Asma Shirazi, an anchorperson for a leading TV channel, revealed:

A woman is casting her vote during by-elections in Islamabad. Image by Shiraz Hassan. Copyright Demotix (22/8/2013)

A woman is casting her vote during by-elections in Islamabad. Image by Shiraz Hassan. Copyright Demotix (22/8/2013)

Although the female voter turnout in many areas was far better than the last time during general elections and the overall female turnout registered a spike, the trend of barring female voters from casting vote in many regions of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continues. This is especially true of such regions where religious conservatives have a heavy influence.

The authorities did not acknowledge many such anomalies during general elections but thankfully, ECP has taken notice of such instances this time, announcing re-polling in certain constituencies where female voters have been barred from casting their vote.

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