There is a picture circulating online which depicts women in lower Dir assembling in orderly rows to cast their vote. In a region where female participation in polls is actively prevented, women stepped out of their homes in dozens to cast the purple stamp on their ballot papers, playing their role in our country’s democracy.

The highest recorded female voter participation is one of the few victories in these 2018 General Elections that almost all parties can claim.  In a historic first, women in conservative parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab came out of their homes to cast their votes. In Balochistan too, despite terror threats, women stepped out to vote.

The credit for the unprecedented turnout goes to a brilliant policy by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which required that an election would be declared void if women’s turnout in a constituency was less than 10pc of its total polled votes. This policy was in response to troubling trends in certain areas where candidates of all political parties colluded together to prevent women from voting. This time around, in those same areas, male candidates who suppressed female participation pushed for women to step out and fulfil their civic duty.

In an electoral system, every vote counts, and a democracy where the voices of 50% of its population do not contribute would be a very weak one indeed. Higher female turnout, regardless of whom they vote for, means Pakistan is heading towards a more representative and inclusive road.

However, there is still a long way to go. Despite the ECP’s activism, there are reports of women stopped from voting in certain villages, with no female votes in Nogram, Deshwal, Nehar, Bathkhana and Rashang polling stations. It is hoped that during this tenure of governance, all political parties will hold hands to work on this issue that benefits us all.