Pakistan's Female Voters Struggle To Make It To The Polls Today

Today is Pakistan's Parliament voting day, and many of the 37 million registered female voters are defying militant groups' death threats and social ostracism to get their say on paper. Recent research as the voting day neared found that 564 out of the 64,000 polling districts hadn't seen a single female vote in the last five years, even though 22% of the lower Parliament is now comprised of women.

One first-time female voter, a working model in the metropolitan city of Lahore, argued that there was no technical restrictions on female voting in the country: "It is not said anywhere that a woman cannot have a voice or an opinion or a right to make a difference." Bhatti said. "I have a responsibility. I have a voice... (Women) can vote and make a difference."

However, this isn't true across the board; in smaller Pakistani villages like Mateela, the men have actually come to the common agreement to forbid their wives and daughters from voting. This is particularly prevalent in Taliban strongholds like North Waziristan, where tribesmen were informed via mosque loudspeaker this morning that no woman would be allowed outside unsupervised during today's voting. A similar pamphlet was handed out in Miranshah: “Take our words, this kind of disgraceful act will not be tolerated and anyone influencing women to cast a vote will be punished."

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Among the so-called "concerns" cited in these instances are bureaucratic firewalls like a lack of basic identification (a CIDC card necessary for voting) and potential sexual harassment at certain co-ed polling stations, clearly just technical covers for the larger, stifling ideological rules at play.

One big draw for middle-class Pakistani women this voting season has been Prime Minister candidate Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Threek-e-Insaf (PTI) — or "Movement for Justice" — political party.

'Despite threats, Pakistani women cast votes in election' [USA Today]
'Pakistani women stopped from voting in Taliban stronghold of Waziristan' [Raw Story]
'In Pakistan Town, Men Have Spoken: No Women Vote' [TIME]

Image via Getty