ISLAMABAD -  Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Senator Sherry Rehman has said that the passage of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2016, by the Senate will ensure that barring women from exercising their right to vote is now a criminal offence.

The passage of the bill that I introduced is a positive step, the senator said in a statement on Monday.

“Now no jirga (tribal assembly) can prevent women from voting in the name of custom, tradition or fear,” declared the senator. 

She added: “passing this bill is a positive step forward. Despite the fact that a woman’s right to vote is constitutionally protected, they have faced multiple difficulties in exercising this fundamental right. This bill will ensure that every woman’s vote counts.”

Highlighting the significance of passage of the bill, Senator Rehman said: “This blatant violation of a woman’s constitutional right has been prevalent across the country. It is high time that the state criminalises such practices.”

She said that the nation must work further to challenge the legitimacy of an election where “women are restricted from voting. This will push leaders to take it upon themselves to guarantee that such practices are completely eradicated.”

Numerous reports reveal that in Pakistan, women voters have been restricted by tribal elders from exercising their right to vote citing “custom” and “culture” as their reasons.

For instance, although there were over 4,000 women who were registered to vote in Dhurnal, not one of them went to cast their vote in 2015.

A similar scenario was reported in Balwal and Dholar areas.

A panchayat (village court) has reportedly barred women from voting in Sandral Ghagh Kalan.

In Buner, women were not allowed to vote at 11 polling stations in 2013.

In other such cases, women were prohibited from voting as a result of political connivance, this was allegedly the case in Hangu and parts of Malakand in 2015.

“Citing custom and culture as an excuse to stop women from voting is unconstitutional as well. Every citizen of Pakistan has the right to vote and they should have the freedom to exercise this right without any constraints,” reiterated the senator.

“Making women a part of the election process will only strengthen our democracy. This will also give them a voice and raise their stakes in the society,” she said.