By Asna Ali
May 10, 2013
In the US presidential elections last year, both candidates tailored their campaigns towards particular segments of society. Mitt Romney found most of his support from conservative white Americans with traditional values, while President Obama targeted groups that usually end up feeling disenfranchised such as ethnic minorities and young women.
Unfortunately for Romney, the Republican Party’s gaffes about women’s rights drove them to vote overwhelmingly for Obama, contributing to his victory and demonstrating the importance of female voters in modern democracies.
Here in Pakistan, however, none of the political parties have cottoned on to this idea. Even those promising radical societal change and accelerated economic growth have failed to mention the role of women in their grandiose schemes apart from cursory comments on doing something about women’s rights. This, despite the fact that there are 37.4 million female voters in the country, a substantial number that could be further increased if more women are convinced to register to vote.
Pakistani voters are a fragmented bunch, divided along party lines, castes and regional differences. Add to it the shoddy track record of most political parties and it seems virtually impossible for anyone to get the majority vote here. Logically, the only way that could happen is if one large vote bank could be rallied into supporting a party; a simple truth that has so far escaped our political leaders thanks to the patriarchal blinkers attached to the eyes of even the most liberal amongst them.
It is a well documented fact, gleaned from the developmental experiences of countries the world over, that women’s contribution is vital to economic growth and social change. Pakistani women too, have started to make themselves heard in many male dominated fields but as far the democratic process is concerned, their contribution remains meagre.
Only a handful of women are contesting for general National Assembly seats in the 2013 election and questions are still being raised in many parts of the country about women’s right to vote. Whatever else may have changed in Pakistan during the past five years, ignorant attitudes towards women have not.
Lack of education and traditional mindsets are often held responsible for this but some of the blame at least, should be shared by our political leaders and their lack of interest in the opinions of half of the population they are vying to represent.
While they may not feel that this sort of casual sexism is costing them anything, it has made female voters apathetic to the process and more likely to continue following the communal voting system that still persists in Pakistan. They will vote as their male guardians direct them to or they may not vote at all, since no one has addressed them or their concerns directly.
This will work out well enough for those parties that rely on communal votes but emerging candidates looking to sway public opinion in their favour will suffer. It is the under-represented and disenfranchised who look for new leaders to make their voices heard. President Obama knew this and used this knowledge to position himself as the leader of women, of ethnic minorities and of the poor.
The 2013 election is almost upon us and it will pass by most women of Pakistan as all other elections have. They still remain desperately unaware of their democratic rights and responsibilities. In many parts of the country, they will not vote. If any female candidates do get voted into the National Assembly, their job will be to fill the quorum and nothing else. For the female half of the country at least, this election does not represent change.
Asna Ali is a business studies graduate from southern Punjab. Email: asna.ali90@ gmail.com