According to the count of the Election Commission of Pakistan; there are 84 million registered voters in the country. Of these hopeful voters, approximately 47 million are men and 36 million are women. The percentage does not translate to representation, in 2012 the last year of the previous Government only 60 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan were held by women.
Not one of Pakistan’s 17 Supreme Court Judges is female and only three out of Pakistan’s 103 High Court judges are women. The Election Commission of Pakistan itself, has no female members, none of Pakistan’s 36 million women apparently being qualified enough to represent Pakistan’s female voters in the premier electoral institution in the country.
It is before this all male Election Commission that a rule came up for consideration last year. The proposed rule mandated that in any electoral constituency in Pakistan, voting results showing less than 10 per cent of women having voted would automatically be disqualified and set for re-polling. The rule made perfect sense, even while the actual ratio of men and women in Pakistan does not equal the ratio of male and female registered voters; the 36 million registered women voters do form a rough 42 per cent of all voters. Given this, and the fact that women can be intimidated against voting, forbidden from voting or simply not allowed adequate access to voting, such a rule would insure and encourage a certain minimal level of participation by women and make its enforcement a responsibility shared and endorsed by all engaging in the democratic process.
In May and September of last year, the Election Commission of Pakistan held six consultative meetings on this and all other proposed rules before it, presenting them to the political parties contesting the elections for discussion and approval. According to the 2012 report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which mentions the incident, every single political party present rejected the rule. The rejecting parties included the supposedly secular parties and the purportedly religious ones; they included parties that have no women in their ranks and those that have placed a woman at the center of their legacy. Not a single one of these fifteen promise-filled parties deemed it worthy for there to be an effort to get a mere 10 per cent of 42 per cent female voters to the polls.
None of this is likely to surprise Pakistan’s women, weary as they are of over six decades of broken promises, discriminatory laws and ignored issues. Their concerns, of the constriction of public space, and of a growing intolerance of their presence in educational institutions and workplaces of Pakistan are nearly always thrown into the rubbish heap. Despite their numbers, a hefty 42 per cent percent, no political party contesting elections has deemed them worthy of an agenda, and not a single one seems to have considered the competitive advantage of developing a platform to cater to the ignored half of the country’s voters.
There is meaning to this discarding. Even before the election has taken place, the numbers tabulated and the victors decided, the fact that the women’s vote in Pakistan is considered so useless, so unworthy of attention by the country’s political leaders means that it is only men whose votes seem to count. If the refusal to enforce the rule asking for a ten per cent minimum of female voters is considered evidence; then it can even be said that the political parties of Pakistan not only discount the votes of women but actually hope that men and only men will elect the future leaders of the country.
Rafia Zakaria is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times, Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. This article was previously published in Dawn (Pakistan).