BFF-70 No Pakistani women vote in village where wives had vowed to defy husbands

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PAKISTAN-POLITICS-ELECTION-WOMEN

No Pakistani women vote in village where wives had vowed to defy husbands

MOHRI PUR, Pakistan, July 25, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Pakistani women who had
pledged to defy men in their village by voting for the first time ultimately
did not exercise their democratic right in Wednesday’s election, citing
intimidation by their husbands.

Male elders banned females from voting in Mohri Pur, some 60 kilometres
(35 miles) from the central Pakistan city of Multan, around 1947 and the
women have obeyed ever since.

This year many had vowed to cast a ballot following changes to Pakistan’s
election laws and amid shifting attitudes towards women in parts of the
deeply patriarchal South Asian country.

Some 3,200 women were listed on the electoral register in Mohri Pur — but
not one voted, according to election officials and an AFP journalist at the
village’s sole polling station.

“We have threats from our husbands that they will divorce us if we cast
our vote,” 25-year-old Tanya Bibi told AFP as she walked past the polling
station, without going in.

Around 8,000 men were registered to vote in the village. Large queues of
them — each clutching identity cards — formed at the polling station,
located in a school.

“We are here to cast our ballots, but our women didn’t cast their votes
because it is our old tradition which we have been preserving,” Muhammad
Shamsher told AFP.

Even Qasir Abbas, a lawyer who campaigned for the women’s vote, said in
the end he did not bring his wife to the polling station, explaining: “I was
afraid … the villagers might boycott my family.”

Bismillah Iram, from a local NGO, said announcements were made from the
village mosque warning that women should not come to the polling station.

Elders in Mohri Pur, which is located in Punjab province, banned women
from voting decades ago, claiming that visiting a public polling booth would
“dishonour” them.

So-called “honour” describes a patriarchal code across South Asia that
often seeks to justify the murder and oppression of women who defy
conservative traditions by acts such as choosing their own husband, or
working outside the home.

Women in Mohri Pur told AFP recently that they had tried to vote in
previous elections but had been prevented.

In 2015, one woman, Fouzia Talib, became the only one in the village to
vote in local elections. She was ostracised.

– ‘Elated’ –

Hopes were raised this time after the Election Commission of Pakistan
(ECP) declared that at least 10 percent of voters in each constituency must
be women, otherwise its results will be voided.

Nearly 20 million new voters were registered in the rapidly growing
country of some 207 million people, including 9.13 million women, the
commission said.

It was not immediately clear how many had voted once polls closed, but
queues of women voters could be seen in major cities such as Lahore and
Karachi.

Not so in Mohri Pur, where “not a single female voted,” said Asia Bibi, an
assistant presiding officer, adding that she was “surprised and upset”.

Women reported better experiences in conservative rural areas elsewhere,
however, notably in parts of Lower Dir, in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
province, where they were allowed to vote for the first time.

Bakht Sania Bibi, a 46-year-old mother-of-three from Samarbagh town, said
village elders had previously stopped women from voting. Announcements used
to be made through mosques’ loudspeakers saying women would not be allowed to
vote.

“I have voted today and feel elated to get my basic right,” she told AFP.

Sajida Haleem, 27, a first-time voter from Lower Dir’s Koto town said she
had been prevented from voting in elections in 2013 and 2015.

“I had always thought, ‘Why do men decide for us? Can we as women decide
for them?'” Haleem, who has a Masters degree in social work, told AFP.

“Today I feel I’m a complete Pakistani. I have got my right which had been
denied to me since I was 18,” she added.

BSS/AFP/BZC/2030HRS