For the women in Sujawal, February 8 will be like any other day. The fact that the district they live in will be going to the polls along with the rest of the country is not lost on them; they just believe it does not seem to make any difference in their lives.
A significant portion of women living in Sujawal are involved in traditional roles such as household work or working in the fields. Their interaction with the larger world and interest in political matters is quite limited. Like in other parts of the country, this prevents women voters in the district from understanding the importance of voting and the power of their vote.
Of the 424,328 registered voters in the district, 233,078 are men, while 191,250 are women. Most of the voters reside in poorly connected areas of the district, which are underdeveloped and surviving on subsistence practices. These areas also lack basic amenities of life.
The struggle to survive in the southernmost district of the country dominates the decision-making process for people here, particularly women.
Bachal Malah, a 60-year-old woman who lives in a thatched hut near Faiz Muhammad Jat village in Sujawal, says she does not know who will win but notes that her decision to vote is based on the monetary support they are provided under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and based on who their tribal chief asks them to vote for.
"I do not know who will win, but I will cast my vote for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate because I am getting Rs10,000 every three months through BISP, and my daughter-in-law is also benefiting from it," she said, asking how could they betray Benazir Bhutto who brought some relief into their lives.
"They will load us in Suzuki pickup vans and drop us at the polling station, and then they will ask us to vote for their favourite candidate," said 35-year-old Rehmat Samejo.
Samejo is among the 17.8% of Sujawal's out-of-school children (10% of all out-of-school children in Sujawal in 2021 were girls, while 7% were boys) who dropped out after the eighth grade.
"Our wishes (on who to vote) are not important when it comes to voting," Samejo said, adding, "We have to follow the instructions of the chieftain of our village."
"If anyone disobeys the directions of the chieftain, they will face dire consequences," she stated matter-of-factly.
Poor literacy among women in the district compared to other parts of the province is often cited as a reason for how the district votes. More boys than girls are enrolled in schools, with 65% of boys and 35% of girls enrolled in government schools while 58% of boys and 42% of girls enrolled in private schools. Similarly, more girls than boys are out of school, with 7% for boys and 10% for girls (2021).
Moreover, 11-20% children out of school in Sujawal. Less than 33% of children in class-V can read a class-II level story, while 33-40% of children in class-V can read a class-II level sentence in English. Less than 33% of children in class V can do simple division.
With floods in 2022 and a cyclone in 2023 devastating the district, a female resident of the district's coastal areas recalled the experience of being shifted into emergency relief camps.
"The relief camps where we stayed for three days during the cyclone emergency lacked basic facilities, and we faced a host of problems," said Haleem, noting that the memory is still fresh in her mind.
Social activist Shoukat Sommro from Mirpur Bathoro Taluka of Sujawal said some empowerment projects were launched for women in the district. However, women living in underprivileged areas of Sujawal have yet to benefit from those.
She further said that insufficient and underequipped maternity homes in the district were unable to handle pregnancy-related complications, leading to the death of several women.
Advocate Asifa A Rasool, who had launched an awareness programme in remote areas of Sujawal titled "Speak Out Openly", shared that it was the responsibility of the government to organise seminars in the underprivileged areas of the district to sensitise and educate locals about the importance of voting and its impact on civilian life.
She further said that education was equally important for fostering an interest in voting.
But the fact is that among the nine candidates vying for the National Assembly seat and 26 candidates contesting on the two provincial assembly seats, nomination papers of just one woman — independent candidate Ayesha — had been approved. However, the candidate for PS-74 Sujawal-II pulled out of the polls even before the final list of candidates was published.