As the 2018 general election nears, efforts must be made to bridge the gender gap in the country to ensure women have a voice in the democratic process. But those efforts are continually being hampered as an inconclusive meeting of the sub-committee of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms indicates, where a consensus on the issue of 10 percent mandatory participation of women in elections could not be reached after the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) opposed the proposal presented by other parliamentary parties.

The JUI-F and JI stuck to their stance, which calls for only 5 percent mandatory participation of women in the elections, although other parliamentary parties demanded at least 10 percent participation for validation of polls. JI leader Tariq Ullah, said his party had some reservations on 10 percent mandatory participation of women voters, stating “One should not be forced to take part in polls, especially women,” he said, apparently oblivious to the fact that women may want to participate and deserve to get their voice heard.

There is currently a massive gap of 12 million between men and women registered as voters, while an updated electoral roll showed 42.4 million females against 54.5 million males out of approximately 97 million registered as voters. Registration is the first step before women can actually step out and vote in the next election and hence the onus remains on the political parties and how they mobilise women and marginalised communities to make it safe to vote, and make sure they represent those vulnerable and trapped.

Although the 2015 local government polls indicated some encouraging trends in women exercising their freedom, there are those that continue to discourage women from exercising their constitutional right to vote, while in other deplorable practices, some political party workers and agents reportedly force women to cast votes in favour of their parties. For democracy to be exercised in true spirit, women must be able to exercise their right and have a say in the future of their country.