PAKISTAN: Despite Threats, Pakistani Women Cast Votes in Election

Saturday, May 11, 2013
USA Today
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

Despite threats from militant groups, many women headed to the polls in Pakistan to vote in the country's historic elections Saturday.

Attacks killed 24 and wounded dozens more during the day in a continuation of what has been a brutal election season with more than 130 people killed in bombings and shootings.

"There is always a fear factor of your life but we are all going to die eventually, depends on the way you are going to die," said Madiha Latif, "might as well go down doing something right, I guess." Latif is a polling agent and the brains behind the non-partisan voter campaign "Pakistan Votes."

For many Pakistani women, this will be the first time they will vote.

In the bustling city of Lahore, model Noore Bhatti, a first-time voter, said women are no different than men in wanting a change for their country. It is the responsibility of every citizen to vote and nothing should keep women from voting, she said.

"It is not said anywhere that a woman cannot have a voice or an opinion or a right to make a difference." Bhatti said. "I have a responsibility. I have a voice. ... (Women) can vote and make a difference."

Women's slow progress in the job sector could be a reason why they have such a strong desire to take part in the elections. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the number of women with jobs grew from 5.7 million to 12.1 million over the past decade. Other hot topics include education, poverty and the economy.

Women have come out in droves for Imran Khan, 60, a leading candidate for prime minister, attending his rallies dressed in traditional Kurta shirts with the former cricket star's face imprinted in different colors.

Political analyst Raza Rumi says Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Threek-e-Insaf (PTI) — or "Movement for Justice" — political party, is likely to bring women out to the polls in some areas.

"In the urban areas ... the Imran Khan party is going to definitely attract more women voters in their cities from the middle classes," Rumi said.

The president of PTI's women's wing in Punjab, the largest of the country's four provinces, Syeda Saloni Bokhari has been an active member of the political party for more than 17 years.

"I am very confident that the women in Pakistan are going to go straight for the kill because the women of Pakistan have a very different way in looking at politics this time," she said. "They are all looking for the savior of Pakistan."

Saturday's historic elections mark the country's first transition from one elected government fulfilling its term to another — without a military coup — and Pakistan's 37 million registered women voters are eager to make an impact.

Badam Zari is running for a seat in the National Assembly with the support of her husband and other women in the Bajaur Agency, a region in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan that is a hotbed for the Taliban. Despite the threats, Zari saw the election as an opportunity to serve Pakistan.

"I am standing for my brothers and sisters, for their rights, so our area can also progress," Zari said. "I am running for the elections to serve my nation."