As part of the UNDP supported regional study on Electoral Violence and Dispute Resolution in Asia and Pacific and in light of the significance of making efforts for ensuring free, fair and credible elections in the country, PILDAT held a Focus Group Discussion with Women in Peshawar on Friday August 18, 2006 to share and learn from their perceptions and understanding of electoral violence and dispute issues.
The focus group discussion brought together a diverse group of Pakistani women representing students, young professionals, NGOs, research institutions, members of Parliament, elected local government political activists and public sector employees.
On women’s low level of participation in elections the consensus was that in most areas of the country women do cast their vote. Lower voter turn out of women was mostly seen to be due to lack of awareness on the part of women, location of polling stations, low levels of literacy combined with lack of a political culture among women. However violence during elections was not seen as having a significant impact on women’s voting behaviour. It was observed that only in some parts of the country were women stopped to cast their vote. The main reason for this was identified as socio-cultural and religious constraints. Some were of the opinion that not allowing women to vote was also a reflection of a form of violence. They felt that more concerted efforts could be taken to deal with this issue of women’s exclusion from participating in elections, both as voters and candidates.
Discussions on the importance of electoral violence highlighted the violence as a major issue in elections and one that impacts voter turn out. However some were of the view that it is an important issue but does not have a significant impact on their decision to participate in the elections. Violence was seen as a social phenomenon and illiteracy, poverty and intolerance in society were identified as major causes of violence during elections. It was stressed that causes of violence have to be dealt with prior to violence taking place during elections. Some felt that there was no solution available for controlling electoral violence. Others opined that in order to bring about a change, interventions need to be made at the societal level as well as to raise the level of tolerance. It was encouraging to note that none of the youth had personally experienced any forms of electoral violence.