ISLAMABAD, March 7, 2023: Women legislators from the National and Sindh Assemblies have called for reforms in the legal and regulatory framework governing elections to fully realize the constitutional guarantees of women’s full participation in all aspects of national life, including politics.
In a rare show of cross-party unanimity, legislators representing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP), Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal Pakistan (MMAP) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) agreed on a range of legal and regulatory measures required to address the challenges facing women’s electoral contestation and support their graduation from the reserved seats to general seats following the spirit of reservation. During a training workshop on the electoral framework, the women legislators urged the government, political parties, and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to prioritize women-specific amendments in the Elections Act, 2017, the Election Rules, 2017, and the electoral codes of conduct to enhance the quality and inclusiveness in the upcoming general elections.
The workshop was organized by the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDEA) under its Women Leadership Development Program, which sought to support reserved-seat women legislators to contest general seats. As many as 11 MNAs including Ghazala Saifi, Munawwara Bibi Baloch, Nafeesa Inayatullah, Nusrat Wahid, Saira Bano, Shaheen Saifullah, Shahnaz Saleem, Shahida Akhtar Ali, Syma Nadeem, Uzma Riaz, Zill-e-Huma and 12 Sindh MPAs including Adeeba Hassan, Ghazala Sial, Heer Soho, Hina Dastagir, Kalsoom Akhtar, Naseem Rajpar, Shahana Ashar, Rabia Khatoon, Seema Zia, Sarwat Fatima, Shazia Umar, and Tanzila Umi Habiba participated in the workshops. Free and Fair Election Network’s (FAFEN) Chairperson Ms. Mossarat Qadeem and TDEA’s Trustee Dr. Anoosh W. Khan addressed the participants.
The women legislators urged ECP to proactively and assertively exercise its constitutional and legal powers to hold honest, just, and fair elections as required under Article 218(3) of the Constitution. Drawing the Parliament’s attention towards a gender gap of more than 10.6 million on electoral rolls, the legislators emphasized urgent measures to enable women without National Identity Cards (NICs) to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming general elections. They called for a one-time provision in the Elections Act, 2017 for supplemental electoral rolls comprising all eligible-age yet unregistered women identified through the population census data to enable them to vote.
They proposed that the Elections Act, 2017 be amended to provide for gender-disaggregated counting of ballots at the combined polling stations to ensure the availability of accurate and complete information on women’s political behaviors, which are currently considered to be influenced by the political choices of men. They also proposed an amendment to the law to provide for legal consequences of incomplete and inaccurate filling of counting forms by the polling staff.
The women legislators suggested restricting the arbitrary powers of the Returning Officers regarding the recount of ballots before the consolidation of results as well as overriding the legally prescribed limits of assigning 1,200 voters per polling station and a one-kilometer distance between a polling station and voters assigned to it. Additionally, the legislators recommended amendments to Form-45 in the Election Rules, 2017 to provide for documentation of polling agents’ comments on the integrity of the counting process.
They asked the Commission to proactively monitor the polling areas where women turnout remained less than 10 percent of the polled votes during the last general elections, and exercise the powers given to it under Section 9(2) of the Elections Act, 2017 to proceed against persons restraining women from voting.
Additionally, they said the ECP needs to improve women’s representation among its officials as well as polling staff to create a more conducive environment for all genders and classes of voters at polling stations.
The women legislators also called for strict regulation of campaign finance and enforcement of election expense limits. They termed the excessive use of money for campaign advertisements, illegal gratification during elections, and transport as a leading barrier for women to compete with male candidates in general seats. They emphasized the need for introducing affirmative measures regarding the financing of election campaigns of women contesting general seats such as binding the political parties to contribute to the women candidates’ campaigns. In addition, the legislators urged the mainstreaming of women within the political parties’ structures and demanded measures to include women in leadership positions and decision-making roles.
Urdu translation can be accessed at the following link: Women legislators from the National and Sindh Assemblies