Shumaila Khan, a primary school teacher in Union Council Fatma, District Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was the Assistant Presiding officer at a polling station during the 2018 General Elections. Her experience regarding the female turnout at that union council was not encouraging.
According to her, the turnout of women voters in the area was low compared to other districts in the province. Being a resident of Union Council Fatma, she is well aware of the reasons why women don't come out to vote.
Khan mentioned that societal restrictions, lack of education, awareness, difficulties accessing polling areas, and low interest among women were the main hurdles. She added that reports from colleagues in various areas indicated that women did not come out to vote. Shumaila hopes to see more women voting in the upcoming election compared to the previous one.
Rizwan Ali from the same union council in Mardan questioned why women would come out to vote for someone they only see on election day. He stated that women have zero interest in leaving home to vote for politicians whose own family members don't participate in the voting process. He believes people are now well aware and politicians cannot deceive them with fake promises.
Faroz Shah from District Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, mentioned that in the last election, women did not vote for any politician, and he believes they will not vote for anyone this time either, as they consider all politicians to be cheaters. Regarding his own vote, he replied, "I will see, but I'm not sure."
However, Sajjad Khan from District Buner said that they are not in the favour of women voting but they will use their own vote on that day. He said that while it was not confirmed whether the election will be held or not but if held, they will use their right of vote.
According to the Free And Fair Election Network (FAFEN), in the 2018 election in Swat, Buner and Batgram and Lower Dir there was a lower female turnout compared to other provinces. The FAFEN report highlighted societal restrictions and patriarchal values affecting female representation and empowerment, leading to lower female voter turnout.
An analysis of three constituencies revealed a concerning scenario regarding women voting patterns. Despite 46,832 registered women in these 34 polling stations, only 1,713 women exercised their right to vote, leaving a substantial 45,119 women who did not participate. This low proportion of women voters calls for active measures aimed at addressing and correcting this issue.
Women in the region continue to face barriers, with fewer registering as voters and an even smaller number turning out to vote. This trend is a result of societal restrictions sidelining women, exacerbated by challenges such as lack of education, awareness, and transportation in remote areas. Timely scrutiny and intervention are imperative to prevent a recurrence of such events in the upcoming General Elections of 2023, ensuring women are accorded their legitimate right to vote.
However, different political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa express positive opinions about women voting, stating that a significant number of women will come out and use their legitimate right to vote.
Awami National Party (ANP) spokesperson Samar Haroon Bilour stated that the ANP is dedicated to promoting women's civic engagement and advocating for gender equality in the upcoming elections in Pakistan, particularly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) region.
She expressed the ANP's commitment to empowering women by providing them with information about their voting rights. The party aims to mobilize a significant number of female voters to actively participate on polling day.
According to Bilour, the ANP stands out as the only political party in the region that genuinely believes in and supports gender equality. This belief is underscored by their decision to not only allocate tickets for women on reserved seats but also on general seats.
Bilour revealed that she herself, along with another candidate, will be contesting the elections on general seats in Peshawar. Additionally, a candidate from Chitral is set to contest on a general seat as well.
ANP claims to be the sole political party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where female candidates are actively participating in elections on general seats, showcasing their commitment to gender-inclusive representation. Bilour pointed out that while other political parties have submitted priority lists for women's reserved seats in the National Assembly, their chances are minimal as they lack a majority in KP.
Emphasising ANP's identity, Bilour stated that the party is the true representative of the Pashtoon community. She asserted that ANP has consistently raised its voice for Pashtoon females in Pakistan. Samar Haroon Bilour shared that the ANP has initiated work at the union council level, indicating their grassroots efforts. She anticipates a substantial number of female voters supporting the ANP in the upcoming elections.
Bilour is positioning ANP as a trailblazer for gender equality, actively engaging women in the electoral process, and advocating for the rights of Pashtoon females in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The party's strategy includes not only reserved seats but also active participation of female candidates on general seats, aiming for a significant female voter turnout in their favor.
Abidullah Yousafzai, representing the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and contesting for the National Assembly seat NA 32 Peshawar, stated that the PPP plans to focus its efforts on areas where past elections witnessed low turnout among female voters. This strategy aims to encourage greater female participation in the electoral process.
Yousafzai emphasised that the PPP is one of the most popular parties in Pakistan, with widespread public trust. He attributed this trust to the party's consistent advocacy for female rights across the country.
The PPP claims to be the sole political party that consistently raises its voice for women. Yousafzai assured that, this time, the PPP will create more opportunities for women in rural areas. Azmat Daowdzai, representing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), provided insights into the party's efforts to engage women and youth at the grassroots level. Daowdzai mentioned that the PML-N has established committees at the union council level specifically dedicated to women and youth. These committees are actively working to educate and inform women about their voting rights.
Compared to previous elections, Daowdzai noted that women are now more aware of their rights and are equipped with the knowledge to demand them. He highlighted ongoing awareness sessions conducted by the party's women wing in their respective areas.
The PML-N has submitted lists for women's reserved seats, indicating the party's commitment to ensuring female representation. The women wing is conducting awareness sessions in their respective areas to further this cause.
Rabia Basri, the president of the PTI women's wing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) , discussed the challenges faced by her party and its efforts to motivate female voters. Basri acknowledged that her party is facing challenges but emphasized the perseverance in their work. Despite difficulties, the party remains dedicated to its goals and continues to operate in their respective areas. Basri highlighted the importance of motivating female voters on Election Day. She noted that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had led in female votes in the last election and predicted an increase in PTI's female voter support this time.
In areas where female voter turnout was historically low, such as Mardan, Dir Upper and Lower, and Shangla, Basri predicted a significant increase in female votes in favor of PTI. She attributed PTI's popularity to its commitment to equal rights for everyone.