Leaving No One behind – Seminar on Enhancing Women Voters Registration
On Thursday, December 07, 2017, National Voters Day Seminar was arranged at Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services in Collaboration with Tabeer-Consolidating Democracy in Pakistan and Women’s Parliamentary Caucus from the National Assembly of Pakistan. The event was attended by Honorable Members of the Parliament along with representatives from the Election Commission of Pakistan, Tabeer CDIP, Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, Civil Society, faculty members and students from various universities of Islamabad. The distinguished panel for the seminar included Honorable Ms. Marriyum Aurungzeb (State Minister for Information and Broadcasting), Honorable Ms. Shagufta Jumani (Member National Assembly), Mr. Zafar Iqbal Hussain (Additional Secretary-ECP) and Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali (Team Leader, CDIP). The session was chaired by Honorable Ms. Shaista Pervaiz Malik (Member National Assembly) who is the Secretary of Women’s parliamentary Caucus at the National Assembly of Pakistan. All the panelists addressed the audience and emphasized on the importance of democracy and voter registration in the country.
The Seminar started with the National Anthem of Pakistan and recitation from the verses of Holy Quran followed by welcome remarks from Mr. Muhammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka, Director Research and IT at PIPS. He mentioned that today’s focus is on increasing women voters’ registration and encouraging the participation of women in the electoral process. The first address was by Executive Director Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services, Mr. Zafarullah Khan. He welcomed the chair and the audience. He said that we are celebrating the voters’ day which has a very deep connection with the Parliament of Pakistan. When people exercise their right to vote, the Parliament is the repository of the people’s will. The elected members then represent the people of Pakistan for a period of 5 years. He said that the purpose of this seminar is to realize how much the people of Pakistan have struggled to get the right to vote. When the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan started working on August 10, 1947, there were two women Parliamentarians in the Assembly, Begum Jahan Ara and Ms. Shaista Ikramullah. In 1959, Basic Democracy Order existed in Pakistan. However, it was on December 07, 1970, after 23 years of independence, that people of Pakistan exercised their right to vote on the basis of adult franchise. He also gave some statistics related to the registered voters and the existing gender gap between voters in Pakistan. Mr. Zafarullah told the audience that the Honorable Speaker National Assembly, Mr. Ayaz Sadiq has also instructed to commemorate the National Voters Day as the Government of Pakistan is about to complete its second civil-to-civil transition successfully.
Talking about the steps taken by Election Commission of Pakistan to enhance the participation of women in the electoral process, Mr. Zafarullah highlighted the two new policies of ECP:
He said that “I consider vote as a unique social equalizer between rich and poor, men and women.” He mentioned the signing of MOU between PIPS and Tabeer – Consolidating Democracy in Pakistan and hoped to contribute together towards the democratic development of Pakistan. At the end, he urged the audience to ensure that they all participate and cast their vote in the 2018 elections.
Mr. Zafar Iqbal Hussain, Additional Secretary – ECP, then gave his address. He started by welcoming the audience and thanking the organizers of the seminar. He mentioned that ECP is an independent organization and the Constitution of Pakistan has entrusted ECP to take steps to provide equal and easy access to vote registration and polling stations to ensure their participation. He said that in the 2013 elections, the voter turnout of about 55% was quite alarming as it indicates that around half of the population is not casting their votes. Most of our people don’t clearly understand their right to vote. Thus, it is important to celebrate this day and request the people to register their votes and participate in elections. He said that election reforms was a very challenging task for ECP which has been achieved successfully by consolidating 8 election laws into one Election Act, 2017. He said that ECP has started preparations for the upcoming general elections in 2018. According to Mr. Zafar, ECP supports women voters’ registration and to stop women from voting has been declared as a punishable offence. He also talked about the problems that ECP has to face in terms of women participation in the elections. He said that:
He ended by requesting the women to ensure the registration of themselves and their family members and come out to vote in the upcoming elections.
This was followed by an address from Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Team Leader – Tabeer, CDIP. He said that elections are just a few months away and people should get ready to register themselves and cast their votes. He said that a person loses his/her right to complain or criticize the government if he does not cast the vote. Thus, vote is our right as well as responsibility. He said that there is a need to empower NADRA. We should reach out to the people and register them. Any bottlenecks in this process should be removed.
Ms. Nighat Siddique from ECP then presented a few statistics and initiatives by ECP regarding the registration of voters in the country. She informed the audience that ECP has recently launched a campaign whose goal is “Increasing the number of women voters and reducing the gender gap.” The campaign has been launched in 79 districts of Pakistan which include 4.3 million households. The targeted women to be reached are 880004. The mobilization activities include door to door campaigns to identify unregistered women voters. The list will be shared with NADRA to reach out and register those women in all households.
Honorable Ms. Marriyum Aurungzeb, State Minister for Information and Broadcasting, then addressed the audience and emphasized the importance of vote. She said that we lose the right criticize if we do not cast our vote. In all democratic tenures, the human development indicators are always better than the eras of dictatorship. The continuity of democracy has been disrupted again and again. However, in 2013, PPP government was the first one to make a successful transition from civil-to-civil government. She told the audience to decide and promise to cast their votes. She ended by thanking the foreign guests and members of civil society and appreciated their support.
This was followed by a talk from Honorable Ms. Shagufta Jumani, Member National Assembly. She said that the topic of this conference is need of the hour. She requested the ECP to make the polling process easier for women and talked about the problems faced by candidates and voters at the polling stations. She stated that vote is our basic right. We should go door to door and make people aware that they should deprive themselves of their right to vote.
The last address of the day was by the chief guest, Honorable Ms. Shaista Pervaiz Malik, Member National Assembly and Secretary – Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. She also emphasized how important it is to increase awareness and facilitate the voters. She said that NADRA is the most important entity in this regard and should be taken on board to simplify its procedure for giving CNICs to the citizens. She talked about a campaign started in Lahore where 11 lac women do not have their votes registered. She ended by thanking the civil society who is holding hands with the government in strengthening the democratic system in the country.
At the end, QA session was held between the audience and the panelists. The students discussed their major concerns regarding their role in elections, media awareness campaigns and factors influencing the vote casting decisions of women in the country. This was followed by presentation of token of thanks to distinguished panelists and a group photo of all the participants. Mr. Rashid Mafzool Zaka concluded the seminar with a vote of thanks to all the participating universities for making the event a success.