Women's rights are always negotiable, at the altar of expediency, and on the pretext of tradition.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, attempts are being made to exclude them from the democratic exercise of electing their representatives to the GB legislative assembly.
A jirga comprising 40 religious scholars and five local elders held in Deral valley on Thursday decided that women registered in that constituency will not be allowed to vote in the elections scheduled for June 8.
The reason given — predictably enough — was that ‘cultural norms’ did not allow women to vote in elections. The candidates of the PML-N, PPP, PTI and JUI-F who were also reportedly present, demonstrated their zealous support for ‘upholding’ antediluvian ideas that further entrench female disempowerment, a dangerous trend in an already chauvinistic social milieu.
This expression of misogyny rears its ugly head at every election cycle. In 2013 as well, such illegal pacts had been made in several parts of the country.
The Election Commission of Pakistan had at the time unequivocally stated it would ensure every possible protection to the women’s vote.
Indeed, it ordered re-polling at two polling stations in Battagram from where it had received complaints that registered female voters in the area had been disenfranchised.
However, the problem refuses to go away. Hidebound traditions, particularly those that control decision-making by the female half of the population, do not disappear quietly and there is no shortage of self-serving politicians whose party manifestos may claim to champion women’s rights, but who demonstrate supine acquiescence in the face of local right-wing pressure groups.
The GB Election Commission has issued a code of conduct for the upcoming elections, the same one that applies to the rest of the country, and which states that any agreements either preventing women from standing as candidates or casting their ballot are prohibited.
The election commission must strictly implement this code, and apply all the sanctions at its disposal against those who conspire to deprive half the population of their right to vote.
Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2015