Islamabad - The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Thursday urged the Election Commission of Gilgit-Baltistan (ECGB) to take appropriate measures to further improve voters’ access to polling stations, particularly of women and seasonal migrants, for the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly election scheduled for November 15, 2020. A FAFEN statement issued said that such measures will complement the Commission’s efforts to enroll more women voters prior to election schedule and will result in improved participation of women in elections. FAFEN’s statement is derived from the focus group discussions of FAFEN’s Long-Term Observers (LTOs) with 188 social and political women activists from across all 24 constituencies. These FGDs were part of FAFEN’s larger observation of political environment and implementation of election-related laws, rules, and regulations that initiated in October 2020. 

Through 24 trained and non-partisan LTOs, FAFEN is systematically observing the nomination process, campaign period, and the ECGB’s preparations. Moreover, using a gender-lens, it aims to highlight barriers to women’s electoral and political participation. Accessibility to polling stations remained the most substantial issue raised by women in all the constituencies. A majority of the women pointed out that the assigned polling stations were at a significant distance, making it difficult for them to leave their regular housework to vote on Election Day. FAFEN, therefore, is demanding of the ECGB to set up polling stations close to the assigned voters to reduce travel time. These polling stations may preferably be established within a range of one-kilometer, allowing greater participation. Female social and political activists also highlighted women’s lack of awareness regarding their electoral rights and entitlements. In this regard, FAFEN recommends that ECGB initiate campaigns on television, radio, print, and social media in local languages to raise awareness among voters about their rights and entitlements and encourage them to vote. The ECGB could seek local civil society organisations’ support to manage these drives.