Counting Female Voters and Making Sure Female Voters Count

FAFEN Recommendations for Enhancing Women’s Electoral Participation

ISLAMABAD, March 8, 2013: General Elections 2013 could be the time that female voters really count, and that female voters are finally counted in Pakistan.  In honor of International Women’s Day, 8 March, Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN) has called upon the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), all political parties, and community leaders around the country to dedicate General Elections 2013 to ensuring women’s full participation.

FAFEN has been advocating since 2008 for some relatively simple solutions to address issues related to women voters.  The recommendations are based on FAFEN’s unique, statistically-driven observation methodologies during the 2008 General Elections and refined during observation of more than 60 by-elections during 2008-2013.

Parliamentarians, other civil society organizations, and political parties have echoed these themes in reports, public statements, and draft legislation.  Now is the time for change, building on this momentum and consensus.

FAFEN has offered the following seven recommendations in order to facilitate greater participation by women voters in General Elections 2013:

ECP should count separately the number of ballots cast at female and male polling booths to calculate sex-disaggregated voter turnout.

A recent ECP pilot study demonstrates how simple this procedure is, and how easily it can be implemented nationwide during General Elections 2013.  Gathering sex-disaggregated voting data is standard best practice in elections around the world, and should be the standard practice in Pakistan.  This data would help election authorities and other stakeholders to identify and address gaps related to ensuring women’s right to vote, which is protected by the Pakistan Constitution and laws.

All new polling stations should be combined (with female and male polling booths) to maximize women’s participation.

FAFEN data from 2008 proves that more women vote at combined polling stations, where they can go with their male family members, as compared to polling stations exclusively for women. FAFEN 2012 Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) indicates that the major reasons for low female voter turnout are cultural issues, followed by accessibility issues, both of which could be addressed in part by ECP adding more combined polling stations.

ECP should be held accountable for setting up and managing all planned female polling booths and stations.

FAFEN has documented a pattern of election authorities failing to set up women’s polling booths and stations in constituencies where they are under pressure by community leaders and/or political parties. ECP must be held accountable for implementing its constitutional and legal duty to set up and manage all planned female polling booths and polling stations.

ECP should ensure that female personnel are hired and trained to manage female polling booths and stations.

ECP must hire and train many more female teachers and other civil servants around the country for duty on Election Day. When male polling officials are in female polling booths and stations, some men will prevent the women in their families from voting.  More women will be enabled to vote if everyone is aware that women’s polling booths and stations are always managed by women polling personnel.  Whenever possible, female security personnel also should be assigned to female polling stations.

ECP must void election results in any constituencies where political parties have agreed to bar women’s voting.

In some locations, political parties, candidates, and election authorities agree in advance – contrary to law – that no women will be allowed to vote.  Where fundamental laws have been violated, election results should not be validated.  In constituencies where no women have been allowed to vote, the election results should be voided.  Constituencies that wish to have representation in the Assemblies should be forced by this method to allow women to vote, according to their constitutional and legal rights.

Enhance Participation of Women in Electoral Processes

Proactive efforts both by the Parliament and the ECP are essential to increase the participation of women in the electoral processes. Political Parties must ensure that they increase the number of women candidates for general seats and make the list of women reserved candidates public well before the elections.

10 Million male and female voters gap on Finalized Electoral Rolls must be bridged

The ECP must ensure that the existing more than 10 million gap of male and female voters on the Finalized Electoral Rolls 2012 is bridged to a minimum before the upcoming general elections. Most of the unregistered women are also not registered with NADRA. These women must be found and registered. This can be done through active collaboration among ECP, NADRA, political parties and civil society organizations.