In the country, a notable gender gap has been persisting for long. The latest voter registration figures, reported in the media, show that a considerable number of women have not been registered as voters, as there is a gender gap of more than 10% in 81 districts out of the 133 districts. Nowhere do women voters constitute 50% of the total. The total number of registered voters in Pakistan is more than 119 million. The serious gender gap exists in all provinces. In the 2018 general elections, female voter turnout was far below the satisfactory level. The existing situation as regards the number of female voters cannot either be described as satisfactory.
This is disappointing and causes of which can be traced to societal structure. One important reason for the exclusion of women from the electoral process is the low literacy rate in the country. In the case of women, the literacy rate is much lower than that of their male counterparts. The possession of CNIC is essential to get registered as voters. Many poor and illiterate women do not possess CNIC, so they are unable to get on the voter list. In far-flung rural areas of the country, there are not a sufficient number of NADRA offices. In the recent past, the government had announced that more NADRA offices would be opened in remote areas of the country. However, the existing gender disparity indicates that neither a sufficient number of NADRA outlets has started functioning in remote regions, nor have women and their family members been motivated enough to register as voters. Many poor women cannot afford the NADRA fee. It remains unknown whether the required fee has been reduced or entirely waived for those who cannot afford to pay the fee.
The persisting situation shows that a sizable number of women are not in the loop in the decision-making process. Participatory democracies require proper representation of all segments of population, including women, at all levels of government. The situation needs to be seriously addressed.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2021.