‘Play to Vote’ Football Tournament Aims to Encourage Pakistani Women’s Participation in Polls

In October, Pakistan enacted the Elections Act to end disenfranchisement of women. Although a constitutional right, millions of women have been de facto barred from voting through agreements among political parties, local elders, and powerful figures, using outdated customs as an excuse.

May 14, 2018 (DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — A three-day women’s football tournament celebrating female leadership ended in Islamabad on Saturday with a call to Pakistani women to take an active role in public life.

The “Play to Vote” event was a collaboration between Oxfam in Pakistan, Election Commission of Pakistan, Rising Stars and Bedari NGOs.

Women’s teams from Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi played six matches over the three days, report Arab News Pakistan.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, Oxfam country director Mohammed Qazilbash said the “She Can Lead” project was designed to encourage women’s participation in the election.

“The 2018 election is an important moment in Pakistan’s democratic journey and we hope to ensure Pakistani women play a meaningful role in it,” he said.

The country’s election law requires at least 10 percent of voters to be women in each constituency for an election to be valid.

In October, Pakistan enacted the Elections Act to end disenfranchisement of women. Although a constitutional right, millions of women have been de facto barred from voting through agreements among political parties, local elders, and powerful figures, using outdated customs as an excuse.

Twelve million more men than women registered to vote in Pakistan in September 2017, up from nearly 11 million in 2013. A primary reason for this growing gap is the requirement of a Computerized National Identification Card (CNIC) to be eligible to vote. It can be difficult for women to get the ID card because of restrictions on mobility and education in a patriarchal, conservative society. The CNIC is also required to access other essential services and benefits such as government loans and the monthly social security stipend under the Benazir Income Support Program.

According to an estimate by the National Commission on the Status of Women, even if 5,000 new ID cards are issued to women every day, it will take 18 years to bridge the gap between men and women voters. Excluded from the decision making in political parties, women do not have a voice to oppose the illegal agreements to bar them from voting or from running for office.

As the country approaches a general election in July/August, the government officials and political parties need to realize that Pakistan cannot become a modern, rights-respecting democracy without the active and equal participation of women, said Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer employed by Human Rights Watch in Pakistan.

Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Additional Director General Nighat Siddique said: “The ECP is working hard to improve women voters’ turnout. We are certain that more Pakistani women will be voting this year.”

Free and Fair Election Network team leader Rukhsana Shama said the organization is working to support women’s participation in public life and sports.

“Women rights are human rights and all of us have to ensure that we adhere to our constitutional commitments and work together toward elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, minorities, transgender Pakistanis and differently abled persons,” Rukhsana said.

Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services director Zafarullah Khan said: “Sports teach us how to play by the rules and not to turn spirited competition into lingering animosity. Through sports such as football and meaningful participation in politics, we can create cohesive communities where women play an equal role.”

Pakistan captain Hajera Khan said that when more women are seen in parliament, more women will also be seen on the nation’s sports fields.
“If women are in positions of power, others will be encouraged to join in all areas of public life,” she said.

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