Pakistani women faced major hurdles at polls

By MANZOOR CHANDIO, written for UPI.com   |   May 20, 2013 at 12:04 PM   |   Comments

KARACHI, Pakistan, May 20 --Women in this month's Pakistani elections were intimidated or blocked from voting in some areas of the country, but many say their families compelled them to vote - usually for their husband's or father's choice of candidate.

Bachal Khatoon, a Sindh woman in her 50s, cast her ballot as her husband instructed. Her father used to control her vote when she lived at home, she said.

She told UPI Next she did not know the candidates well. Therefore, she said, I voted for the candidate who is only known to my husband."

A record number of Pakistanis went to the polls to elect Nawas Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party, despite a Taliban ban on women's participation.

Human rights activists said women in tribal and rural areas were not able to vote in large numbers but some urban polling stations saw the largest female turnout in the country.

Election officials say 44 percent of women are registered to vote, even though they comprise 52 percent of the population. Only half of those registered cast ballots. A very small number of women ran as candidates, even though provincial and national legislative seats are set aside for them.

Women's rights activist Sahar Majid told UPI Next that Pakistani women are still a long way from casting their votes freely. She said millions of women were prevented from casting their own ballots because of their sex.

Approximately 35 percent of women in Sindh, 25 percent of those in Punjab and 10 percent of those in each of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan voted independently, according to a survey by the Sindh Democratic Forum, a group advocating political equality for women and minorities.

Poor and landless men fared little better, and were often coerced into voting for feudal lords and tribal chieftains.

"We are in a transformative phase where even men are not free to vote. A large number among them vote for their landlords and clan chieftains," Sind Democratic Forum director Zulfiqar Halipoto said, "So how can we expect their women would vote freely?" he asked.

Two Karachi men, Faizullah and Mohammed Khalid, told UPI Next that they did not put pressure on their wives or daughters to cast their votes.

"My wife likes the manifestos of the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and I also think the PML is the best party," one said.

Nonetheless, Pakistani television recently reported that a man in the Sargodha district of Punjab divorced his wife because she voted for the Pakistan Muslim League instead of his party, the Pakistani Movement for Justice or PTI, led by former cricket star Imran Khan.

A Karachi woman, who would only give her last name, Parween, told UPI Next she liked the personality of Benazir Bhutto, the late Pakistan Peoples Party leader and prime minister. So, Parween said, she voted for her party. Her husband voted for the same party.

"You see Taliban killed Bhutto because she was a woman leader. When she could sacrifice her life for us, we must vote for her party," Parween told UPI Next.

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