Pakistan has a voter population of 128.5 million citizens for the upcoming parliamentary elections, constituting over half of its total population. The country is not too far behind the democracies with the highest populations of voters across the world-- India, the US, and Brazil. On February 8, Pakistan's citizens will decide the nation's fate during the parliamentary elections. Yet, in some regions of the country, women fall behind in exercising their right to vote.
A report in Agence France Presse revealed how some women in Pakistan are restricted from voting due to familial pressure. Despite the country possessing the fifth-largest number of registered voters, the lack of participation of women raises questions about the viability of a democratic system in the country.
Pakistani Women's Struggle For Rights
In some rural sections of Pakistan, men restrict the women in their houses from casting a vote. “Whether by her husband, father, son or brother, a woman is forced. She lacks the autonomy to make decisions independently. These men lack the courage to grant women their rights" said Kausir, speaking to AFP. The 60-year-old former headmistress is another of seven women, six of whom have completed higher education and are yet subjected to restrictions from voting, just like the other women in their town.
According to legal expert and women's rights activist Fatima Tu Zara Butt, there are no restrictions to voting in Pakistan or under Islam but the religious faith has been misinterpreted or misused. "Regardless of their level of education or financial stability, women in Pakistan can only make decisions with the ‘support’ of the men around them,” she said.
AFP also spoke to the men, looking for reasons why women are kept away from the polling booth. Malik Muhammad, a member of the village council in Dhurnal said, "Several years ago, during a period of low literacy rates, a council chairman decreed that if men went out to vote, and women followed suit, who would manage the household and childcare responsibilities? This disruption, just for one vote, was deemed unnecessary."
Another man, Muhammad Aslam opined that women are prohibited from involving in politics out of fear of “local hostilities” during the time of elections. Some other men alleged that it was just a matter of tradition that had been passed down for years without questioning the practice. Reportedly, even several women from these regions refuse to vote.
Despite reservations for women (60 of its 342 National Assembly seats), political parties hardly ever permit women to run for office beyond these limits. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) stated that even 30 years after former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, only 355 women—as opposed to 6,094 men—are running for seats in the national parliament on February 8. Bhutto was elected in 1988 and became the first Muslim woman leader anywhere in the world.