In some of the most socially conservative regions of Pakistan this weekend’s local government elections will be men-only affairs. Local politicians and elders say parties contesting elections for district and village council seats in Hangu and parts of Malakand, districts of the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), have struck deals barring women from voting. There are fears of similar arrangements across KP, a province bordering Afghanistan where many Pashtun communities observe purdah traditions so strict that many female candidates do not publish photographs on election posters.
The cultural difficulties are often compounded by dire security in areas where the Taliban and other militant groups are active.
In a parliamentary byelection in Lower Dir this month, none of the eligible 50,000 women in the constituency turned out to vote. One report said mosques broadcast warnings to women, and polling stations were guarded by “baton-wielding men” who blocked the few women who did try to vote.