Pakistan elections 2024: The gender voting gap
Ten million more men than women have registered to vote in Pakistan’s general election, scheduled for February 8, 2024.
In a country with 127 million registered voters and where women make up 49% of the population, this is a huge disparity.
Voting is a constitutional right for all adults in Pakistan, however historically this has not been reflected at polling stations. In the last general election in 2018, 11 million fewer women than men voted.
Past elections have seen political parties collude in effectively barring women from voting, going so far as to impose large fines for anyone breaking their agreement.
A 2019 study found that this gap is due to patriarchal norms within households, where men’s attitudes significantly influence women’s ability to vote. Almost 55% of the men surveyed said it was acceptable to prevent women in their household from voting if they voted differently from them. Additionally, 8.3% of men said it was inappropriate for women to vote in a general election at all.
The state of women’s rights in Pakistan
In the most recent Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum, Pakistan ranks 142 out of 146 countries, with only Iran, Algeria, Chad and Afghanistan ranking further down.
Reasons for this include being deprived of education, economic opportunities and mobility, along with facing forced marriages, violence and sexual harassment.
Speaking to NADJA in 2020, journalist Ailia Zehra explained that women are almost completely absent from public spaces. “In Pakistan it is very difficult for women to just exist,” she said. “Public spaces are not accessible for women. When they go alone they’re cat-called, they’re sexually harassed. A woman has to have a man with her at all times in order to be safe.”
What happens when women can’t vote?
The most obvious impact of women being unable to vote is their underrepresentation in politics and policy-making, leading to laws that do not adequately address the needs and concerns of half the population. This includes addressing gender-based violence and educational needs.
Additionally, women in Pakistan are an important voting constituency when it comes to the provision of clean drinking water and curbing inflation. In the run up to the 2018 election, 18.3% and 16.1% cited these as the most important public policy concerns respectively, compared to 9.2% and 9% of men.
This shows that addressing the gender gap in voting is not only vital for the rights of women, but for the wellbeing of Pakistani society at large.
How do we close the gender voting gap?
According to a study published by the American Political Science Association, canvassing campaigns aimed at increasing women’s political participation in countries with patriarchal gender norms are more likely to succeed when they target men as well as women.
The research states that targeting women implicitly assumes that the decision to participate in politics is one that women can make and act on independently. However in highly patriarchal countries, women’s capacity to vote is dependent on the men who act as “gatekeepers” within households.
Researchers spoke with 2,500 households which were assigned to one of four experimental conditions: a canvassing visit by a female targeted at women, a visit by a male canvasser targeted at men, two separate visits by female and male canvassers targeted at women and men, respectively, or no visit.
Targeting only women with a canvassing campaign was ineffective at improving women’s turnout. However this increased by 5.4 percentage points in households where men were canvassed, and by 8 percentage points when both men and women were canvassed.
Researchers concluded that, “a well-targeted intervention achieves substantial gains in women’s turnout, lasting changes in men’s supportive behaviour toward women’s participation, increases in within-household political discussion, and sharing of resources on election day.”