Why does a gender gap in voting exist in Pakistan? Our research looks beyond the creation of democratic spaces for women’s participation, such as voter registration, to look instead at the constraints that women face in being able to use such spaces.
This paper uses qualitative fieldwork undertaken in Lahore over 2017–18 to understand what enables or constrains women’s decision to turn out to vote. Standard explanations for Pakistan’s large gender gap in political participation highlight overt restrictions imposed on women voters by male family and community members. We do not believe that these explanations are complete and look instead at more subtle processes that socialise women into non-political roles, and result in a ‘gendered psyche’ that makes women feel invisible and irrelevant to the electoral process. Constraints resulting from political engagement are usually underemphasised in academic and policy literature, and analysing their importance is a major contribution of this paper.