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Pakistan Looks to Women to Boost Voter Participation

Pakistan Looks to Women to Boost Voter Participationi
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April 04, 2013 12:42 AM
For the first time in Pakistan’s history, two women from the highly conservative tribal regions are running for parliament in the upcoming national elections. Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on efforts being made by local and international organizations to get more women to the ballot box.

Pakistan Looks to Women to Boost Voter Participation

Sharon Behn
— For the first time in Pakistan’s history, two women from the highly conservative tribal regions are running for parliament in the upcoming national elections. Local and international organizations are making an effort to get more women to the ballot box.

Badam Zari is making history by running for parliament from Pakistan's conservative and Taliban-dominated tribal belt.
 
"I made this decision to serve and help our sisters and mothers in the area. Our area of Bajur (tribal region) is poor and backward, we have problems in the health and education sectors - this is the reason I decided to take part in the election," Zari said.
 
Most women in Pakistan's tribal regions rarely leave their homes.
 
Asad Sarwar, the official who received Zari's nomination papers, says her decision is historic in the Taliban-dominated tribal areas.
 
"This woman has broken barriers. This is very courageous. This step will pave the way for other people, especially women,” Sarwar said.
 
Women's rights also remain threatened outside of the strongly-conservative tribal regions.  Last year Taliban militants shot teenage activist Malala Yousufzai for supporting girls' education.
 
Afzal Khan of the Election Commission says getting women to participate from all parts of Pakistan in the May 11 elections is vital.
 
"They are a little more than 50 percent of our population and they must play their positive role. There are sensitivities, you know cultural sensitivities, but there are solutions to every problem," Khan said.
 
Pakistan’s election commission says it is focusing on educating and reaching out to female and minority voters.
 
Yet there are challenges to increasing their participation.  Some 10 million women do not have identity cards, making it impossible to even register to vote.
 
Others must overcome traditions that bar women’s participation in public life.
 
Lena Lindberg, the Pakistan Country Director of U.N. Women, says women tend to abide by their male relatives' decisions. So voter education is aimed at both men and women.
 
"Many women believe that it is not proper for them to take part in any decision making, not to speak about electing a government. So it certainly has to be targeting both.  For change to happen, to improve women's rights in society, women's participation in elections, both men and women have to understand what the needs are and what the best is for society in the future," Lindberg said.
 
In Pakistan's last elections, only 44 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots.
 
Organizers hope that this time around, getting more women to the polling booths could as much as double voter turnout.

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