Welcome to Pakistan! Home to the second largest gender gap in the world, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report. Many women in Pakistan face violence, intimidation and sometimes death for wanting to receive an education. Sounds like a recipe for repression.
The AP reports that in 564 of 64,000 Pakistani polling districts women could not vote in the 2008 election. It is looking to be much the same for the upcoming May 11 election. Why? Because the village men deemed it so.
One of these 564 districts is the village of Mateela. There men gathered and decided that women would not be allowed to vote in the upcoming elections.
Despite the elections being a great step forward for democracy, Pakistan’s disenfranchisement of women holds to a terribly outdated standard: the polls are mixed gender. One village elder was quoted as saying, “We stop our women from going to polling stations because we think if they do, men would tease them by staring or touching them.”
So, the reasoning for not wanting women to vote is because of the fear that men will “tease” or “touch” them if they’re in a mixed polling place? This speaks volumes about the issues women face, not just in Pakistan, but globally. The paternalistic notion that men might harass (or, to take it further, sexually assault or abuse) women, so we should punish the women. Shouldn’t men just know better? This in my mind is like preemptive victim shaming, and I’m not down.
The interesting thing is that women might not be able to vote, but more women are running for office! Though the numbers are far from equal, Pakistan has already had a female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. According to the AP, 60 of 342 seats in the National Assembly are reserved for women, and more are running for contested seats against men. And more women are also running for localized seats in provincial assemblies! This is good news, at least. As a voting rights activist from The Association for Gender Awareness & Human Empowerment told the people of Mateela, “You can change your fate by electing a good candidate. It won’t be possible without the active participation of women voters.”
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[Image of Pakistani woman voting in 2010 via Shutterstock]