Violence against women during elections is a grave issue with a long-lasting impact on women’s participation in politics and public life. In Pakistan, many women face obstacles to participating in elections. These include cultural and social barriers, lack of access to information and resources and physical threats and violence. Women are underrepresented in decision-making roles and have limited access to power and influence. As a result, violence against women in elections undermines women’s equal access to the democratic process, whether as voters, candidates, polling staff, polling agents or elected leaders.
One of the primary forms of electoral violence that women experience is intimidation and harassment. This can manifest in various ways, such as physical threats, verbal abuse and online harassment. These tactics are frequently employed to deter women from participating in the electoral process and to influence their votes in favour of certain candidates.
In addition to intimidation and harassment, women in Pakistan face physical violence during elections. This can encompass attacks on polling stations, vandalism of campaign materials and physical assaults on candidates and voters. These acts of violence not only disrupt the electoral process and undermine the integrity of the vote, but also have a long-lasting impact on the safety and security of women in the community.
To address the issue of electoral violence and enhance women’s participation in politics, measures that ensure the safety and security of women during elections are vital. This can involve deploying security personnel at polling stations, establishing mechanisms for reporting incidents of violence and promoting gender-sensitive policies and practices in the electoral process.
The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives conducted a field assessment on electoral violence against women in Pakistan through the platform of Women in Elections (WiE). The study reviewed the legal framework and redress mechanisms, identified gaps and hindrances through the practical experiences of VAWE victims, and prepared a set of recommendations for the stakeholders including the government, the Election Commission of Pakistan, political parties and the civil society. The assessments include a practical guide/ toolkit that provides information about existing redress mechanisms for women and guiding principles for service providers to empathically deal with survivors in a human rights framework. This study and toolkit can be accessed on the CPDI website.
The Elections Commission of Pakistan has a significant role to play in this regard. It must consider revising and strengthening the code of conduct to explicitly prohibit all forms of electoral violence against women candidates, including physical, sexual, and verbal abuse.
The ECP can also provide more comprehensive training to election staff, candidates, and political parties on issues related to electoral violence against women, especially the candidates. The ECP can also conduct campaigns to educate the public about the issue and encourage them to report and prosecute instances of violence and intimidation.
The ECP also needs to set up a dedicated hotline for women to report instances of electoral violence during elections, which should be staffed by trained professionals.
The ECP should consider including provisions in election laws that specifically address electoral violence against women candidates and provide for effective enforcement mechanisms. This could include penalties for perpetrators and compensation for victims.
Other stakeholders, including candidates who stand to benefit or profess cultural differences should publicly and unambiguously condemn all forms of electoral violence against women candidates, including physical, sexual and verbal abuse. Political parties and candidates should commit to running campaigns that focus on issues rather than personal attacks. This could include adopting codes of conduct that prohibit electoral violence against female candidates.
Civil society organisations and other stakeholders should support women fighting elections by providing resources and assistance during the electoral process. This could include providing training, networking opportunities and legal support. Civil society organisations and the media can play a crucial role in raising awareness about the issue of electoral violence against women if they are inclined to lend support to achieving this objective.
It is crucial to address the issue of electoral violence to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process. This is essential to build an inclusive and democratic society and to promote the rights and empowerment of women in Pakistan.
Published in The News on Sunday