Election observers have reported that thousands of women from Lakki Marwat were denied their right to vote during Wednesday’s by-election for PF-75, which was also marked by procedural irregularities and illegal campaigning.
Having visited the majority of polling stations, the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) found that negligible numbers of female voters visited the stations reserved for them, and many of the combined-gender polling stations had not even made arrangements to accommodate women. Fafen attributes the low female turnout to restrictions on women’s mobility and, disturbingly, agreements among contesting parties and candidates on barring women from voting.
Not only does this constitute the summary disenfranchisement of the women of the area, it also robs the electoral exercise of its basic point: the winner cannot be said to have been democratically elected as a legitimate representative of the people when approximately half of the area’s population was not allowed to have a say in the matter. That the decision to strip women of their constitutional right to equality came from the contesting parties themselves gives a lie to their frequent claims of being the custodians of democracy.
It is true that local customs restrict the mobility of women and their involvement in non-domestic spheres; indeed, there have even been instances when women, citing tradition, have themselves refused to vote. Further, experiences similar to that of the PF-75 by-poll have been reported from other areas in the past. This represents entrenched patriarchy and the abuse of women’s rights in such a routine fashion that they have ceased to be recognised as rights at all. It is precisely this sort of regressive thinking that needs to be countered in order to bring the country out of the dark, and give true meaning to the process of holding democratic elections.