In Pakistan, women work to strengthen democracy
Zameer Akhtar, 28, participated in the electoral process for the very first time. Being a woman and living in a joint family in Pakistan, getting consent from her elders for her decision wasn’t simple at first. But she felt compelled to take part in election training due to lack of public confidence in previous elections.
So Zameer trained as a master trainer and provided guidance to polling officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the general elections that took place on 11 May 2013. UNDP supported the election commission to train its polling officials in an effort to ensure credibility of the polling process and increase public confidence for the elections.
- More than 600,000 polling officers were trained throughout the country for election day.
- These officials were placed in 70,000 polling stations across Pakistan.
- 600,000 Tamper-Evident Bags were procured to deter fraud.
These historic elections were the first time a civilian government has completed a full term and the country’s democracy would transition from one democratic government to the next.
“A lot of women want to do something positive for their household, community and country,” Zameer said. “I feel these elections are a true opportunity for women to contribute in shaping the future of Pakistan. For the first time, I decided to participate and encourage other women.”
This was possible due to the cascade training, part of the first phase of the US $22.5 million project, which began last year. It focuses on supporting the ECP to prepare and conduct the general elections.
“Together with the ECP, we are training polling officials including women who are responsible for managing the female polling stations,” said Azhar Malik , UNDP Assistant Country Director for Governance. “It would ensure greater women’s participation in the electoral process.”
Zameer’s job entails training polling officials effectively, for a well organized polling and counting process at every polling station, in accordance with the election commission’s rules and procedures. She demonstrates the polling process with new initiatives that include counting forms, tamper-evident bags and the use of electoral rolls with voters’ photographs. She gives step-by-step guidance to the trainees on how to operate in a polling station on election day.
“Polling staff will play a critical role in safeguarding the credibility of the elections. It is essential that they are trained to carry out their responsibilities confidently and impartially,” said UNDP Pakistan Country Director Marc-André Franche.
UNDP is providing assistance to the election commission in areas including training of polling staff and security personnel, results management and voter education through a three-year electoral cycle support project supported by the Governments of Australia, Norway, Japan, United States, Switzerland and the European Union.
With the support of UNDP, ECP has launched a voter-education campaign targeted at inclusion of youth and women, as well as a new elections results management system for upcoming national and provincial elections.
Phase II of the project commences after the general elections and focus on longer-term capacity strengthening of the ECP, improvements to the electoral process, civic education and local government elections.