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Women defied tradition to vote in Pakistan

Women turned out in force in Pakistan’s general election this week, shoving aside often decades of patriarchy and taboo to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

A day later, after claiming victory in a hard-fought election race, Imran Khan said that he would use his mandate to fight for those without a voice — and in deeply conservative, religious Pakistan, that can often mean women.

“My policies will be geared towards minorities, women, all the oppressed,” he said in a televised address. “My entire efforts will be to raise the rights of the oppressed.”

While official figures have not been released, women turned out in large numbers to register their voices in the pivotal election — only Pakistan’s second transition of power from one civilian administration to another.

Before the election, described as one of the most consequential in Pakistan’s short history, advocacy group Human Rights Watch released a report that found while women have a constitutional right to vote, “millions… have been de facto barred from voting through agreements among political parties, local elders, and powerful figures, using outdated customs as an excuse.”

Newspaper columnist and analyst Rafia Zakaria said the old system is crumbling. “It seemed a lot of (women) voted and that I think is hopeful. I think it’s connected to urbanization, connected to the fact that democracy is what people are coming to expect.”

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