In Pakistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections, where 12.85 crore voters are set to exercise their franchise, the women of Dhurnal village in Punjab find themselves excluded from this democratic process.
Despite voting being a constitutional right for all adults, patriarchal male village elders have maintained a ban on women casting their votes in Dhurnal for over 50 years.
The prevalent practice of not allowing women in certain regions to vote continues to defy efforts by the government to increase the female voter percentage. The Election Commission of Pakistan emphasizes its authority to nullify the process in constituencies where women are barred, but progress has been slow.
In Dhurnal, men offer various explanations for the prohibition on women voting, citing reasons such as low literacy rates, household duties, and traditions. However, women in the village, like healthcare worker Robina Kausir, express a desire to vote but fear community backlash, including the threat of divorce. Robina, with her husband’s support, has previously arranged transportation for women to the polling station and plans to do so again.
Women’s rights activist Fatima Tu Zara Butt addresses the misinterpretation of Islam, asserting that Islam permits women to vote but is often misused and misunderstood in Pakistan. She emphasizes the need to challenge the notion that women can only make decisions with the support of men.
Despite Pakistan electing Benazir Bhutto as the world’s first Muslim woman leader in 1988, promoting women’s rights, the gender divide remains evident. In Thursday’s election, only 355 women are contesting compared to 6,094 men. The reservation of seats for women in the National Assembly is not translating into meaningful representation, with women often relegated to constituencies where winning is unlikely.
While the Elections Act of 2017 aimed to address low female voter turnout, challenges persist, reflecting a need for continued efforts to ensure women’s equal participation in the democratic process in Pakistan.