In Pakistan town, men have spoken: No women vote

2013-05-06T00:00:00Z In Pakistan town, men have spoken: No women voteThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

MATEELA, Pakistan - For decades, not a single woman in this dusty Pakistani village surrounded by wheat fields and orange trees has voted. And they aren't likely to in next week's parliamentary election either. The village's men have spoken.

"It's the will of my husband," said one woman, Fatma Shamshed. "This is the decision of all the families."

Mateela is one of 564 out of the 64,000 polling districts across Pakistan where not a single woman voted in the country's 2008 election. The men from this village of roughly 9,000 people got together with other nearby communities to decide that their women would not vote on May 11 either.

Next week's election will bring a major first for democracy in Pakistan - the first time a civilian government has fulfilled its term and handed over power to another. But women still face an uphill battle to make their voices heard in the political process, as voters, candidates and in parliament, where they hold 22 percent of the seats in the lower house.

Women represent only about 43 percent of the roughly 86 million registered voters, according to election commission data. In more conservative areas like Khyber Paktunkhwa province and Baluchistan, the percentage drops even further.

In places like Mateela, the fact that men decide women should not be allowed to vote is a decades-old tradition. Some men say women don't have the mental capacity. Other times they don't want wives and daughters to leave the house. Some simply don't see the point.

At a recent gathering in the village, about 100 miles south of Islamabad, activists tried to encourage the opposite. The Association for Gender Awareness & Human Empowerment, an independent group working to increase voter participation, met with residents, trying to encourage them to let women vote.

Mateela's men sat with male activists in a courtyard near the village mosque. Secluded behind a gate, the women sat on a concrete floor and listened to a female activist talk about the benefits of voting.

Mateela's women certainly want a political voice. They talk of their desire to see better roads, schools where their daughters can get an education and a reliable supply of gas for cooking and heating.

They don't directly defy their fathers and husbands - but they do lobby them to change their minds.

One deterrent to women voting has been that many don't have the proper identification card, called a CNIC card.

Historically, many men in conservative areas haven't seen the need to send their wives or daughters to get the card or haven't wanted to pay for it.

But activists say that has begun to change in recent years - in large part because it makes more financial sense for men.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Event Calendar

Today's events | Add an event

Most viewed: