Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Women's disenfranchisement -

By Shad Begum[1]

The Peshawar High Court’s judgment to declare the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) judgment of June 2, 2015 as null and void in the case of PK 95 Dir Lower has compelled the civil society networks and women rights activist to contest PHC judgment in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The ECP took suo moto action after the by-election in PK-95, in which the JI candidate had won the election.

The PHC judgement says that the learned judges were not happy with the situation but there is no such law to compel voters for voting. The question was not to compel the voters for voting but the entire reasoning of the ECP judgement was that since the local JIRGA, including the contesting candidates, had reached a verbal agreement to limit the elections to men only, hence it was against the constitutional guarantees and the spirit of the electoral laws.

It is also worth noting that while the case was being heard in the ECP, when there was a favorable environment for the women voters, they came out to vote on May 30, 2015 in the local government elections. Even more significant are the results of PK-93 Dir Upper in which the women of Dir came out to vote in the by-elections in September 2015. It was unprecedented to see women voters in Dir Upper by-elections. Whether in the local government elections or in the case of PK-93 Dir Upper, the political parties and their candidates knew that there is a strong reaction from the ECP on barring women voters, and that the ECP will take action against the winning candidates, just as in the case of JI’s candidate in PK-95, if women were barred from voting.

The PHC judgment will set a precedent and encourage those who disenfranchise women in the name of culture. The ECP judgment was a strong message to those violating women’s right to vote but it seems that the struggle of empowering women through the exercise of their votes is not yet finished.

The Parliamentary Committee on electoral reforms has yet to come up with the recommendations and the government of Nawaz Sharif has not been able to legislate on the recommendations of the electoral reforms committee. The government of Nawaz Sharif and his brother’s in the Punjab have recently taking steps that is presenting a soft image of Pakistan in the international community. The legislation of Women Protection Act by the Punjab Assembly and the death sentence to Mumtaz Qadri are some examples in this regard. The Nawaz Sharif government is also working on policy for women empowerment but certain judgements that disenfranchise women only because of the absence of adequate laws are going to reflect on the legislative performance of the Nawaz Sharif government. We hope that the government will take immediate steps to enact the law on minimum voting by women in a constituency as a requirement for the returning candidates to be declared successful.

[1] Ms. Shad Begum, belonging to Dir Lower district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is a woman social entrepreneur working for the economic, political and social empowerment of women since 1994. She is the founder member and Executive Director Association for Behaviour & knowledge Transformation  (ABKT), an Ashoka Fellow, and in recognition of her extraordinary work for the rights of women, she has been awarded several national and international awards, including the International Woman of Courage Award by the US State Department. She has remained a district councilor in Dir Lower during 2001-2005, after winning the election on a general seat as an independent candidate.  She is on the Advisory Boards of several prestigious international women organisations and is also a member of the UN Strategic Guidance Group of the N-Peace Network, a global network of women peacemakers around the world. Currently, Shad is Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) United State.

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