HRCP Calls For Inclusiveness, Electoral Empowerment Of Marginalised Groups

HRCP Calls For Inclusiveness, Electoral Empowerment Of Marginalised Groups
Rights activists at a national consultation on political participation and electoral empowerment of marginalised groups in Pakistan Monday called on the government, political parties and civil society groups to adopt steps to empower institutions apart from addressing the systematic disenfranchisement and the exclusion of various groups.

This was discussed on Monday as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) held a national consultation in Islamabad.

The participants also discussed barriers in the electoral system which led to disenfranchisement and proposed measures to increase inclusiveness and transparency.

Increasing access for voters

Potohar Mental Health Association President Zulqarnain Asghar pointed towards the lack of concern shown by authorities towards the inaccessibility of polling stations for specially-abled people.

He stressed that various disabilities must be catered to instead of simply providing wheelchairs or making other token efforts.

Asghar proposed that all political parties should set up special wings for specially-abled people like they have wings for the youth and women.

Women participation

HRCP Council member and senior Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Farhatullah Babar called for increasing women's seats in legislatures.

He noted that although an arbitrary five percent quota has been set for women legislators under the law, their true political participation -- especially in cabinet and other advisory positions -- exceeds this quota.

To boost women's participation in the electoral process, he emphasised easing cumbersome computerised national identity card (CNIC) registration requirements for women as well as specially-abled people and non-Muslims.

This proposal was seconded by Inclusive Registration at the National Database and Registration Authority Director General Reema Aftab.

Meanwhile, minority rights activist Jennifer Jagjiwan called for re-evaluating the entire electoral process from the lens of representation and recognition.

Jagjiwan suggested that political parties must make efforts to raise the issue of religious minorities in their internal forums.

National Democratic Movement member and former senator Afrasiab Khattak agreed, stating that all political parties must take collective responsibility and work towards representing marginalised groups adequately.

Transgender rights

Trans activist Nayyab Ali highlighted how people who are transgender were disenfranchised simply because they were undercounted in the 2017 census. Initial reports from the 2023 census were even more disappointing.

Ali noted that among those counted in 2017, only 18 percent were documented.

Federal Bureau of Statistics' Joint Census Commissioner Qazi Ismatullah agreed, adding that the census data must include minorities, specially-abled people and people who are transgender.

Income disparity and proportional representation

Awami Workers Party's (AWP) Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar noted that the current electoral system was heavily skewed towards candidates from higher income groups who could simply wallop opposition by their sheer spending power.

He suggested that there should be a system of proportional representation for marginalised groups.

Election Commission of Pakistan's Director General for Gender Nyghat Siddique said that the commission had implemented ceiling budgets for election campaigns, and other checks and balances are steadily being devised.

Empower institutions

Federal Ombudsperson for Protection Against Harassment at the Workplace Fauzia Viqar and HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique emphasised that political institutions must empower statutory institutions instead of pursuing their interests.

Such measures, they said, would go a long way towards ensuring fair and inclusive elections in Pakistan, free of the influence of non-political forces.