Over the last few years, Nadra claims to have taken several measures to improve CNIC issuance across the country but, unfortunately, about 12 million women are without CNICs that would bar them from voting in the upcoming elections as well as deprive them of several other rights being the citizens of the state.
While several socio-economic and cultural reasons are cited for this trend across the country, especially in the conservative KP and underdeveloped Balochistan, questions are also being raised about the efficiency of Nadra. Why has Nadra, despite all the resources and expertise at its disposal, not reached out to women without CNICs and issued them an identity they direly need.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has recently taken notice of this fact and urged Nadra to launch an exhaustive drive in this regard but the general perception is that the latter will not be able to achieve this task.
However, Nadra claims it had taken up this challenge in September 2016 and officially launched “Women Registration Drive.” At the outset, it claims, they identified certain ‘gap areas’ containing 103,1758 unregistered women. These particular areas are often remote/rural locations where women registration is found to be particularly low due to illiteracy, poverty, and issues of female mobility; which are the major factors besides lack of awareness about the benefits of obtaining of a CNIC.
Due to the initiative, more than 80 per cent of the registration gap has now been covered, says a source in Nadra who does not want to be identified. This claim appears quite different from the number of 12 million women without CNICs that has been shared recently by the ECP.
The source adds: Nadra processes up to 65,000 to 70,000 (average) applicants throughout the country on a daily basis, out of which approximately 10,000 women apply for their first-time CNICs every day.
Nadra’s Regional Offices are given targets on a monthly basis to register first-time women applicants free of cost. “Both men and women are subject to the same verification procedures during the issuance of an CNIC since Nadra has a mandate to register Pakistani citizens regardless of gender, caste or creed.”
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Naheeda Abbasi, Programme Manager, Pothohar Organisation for Development Advocacy (PODA) countres this claim saying, “the biggest issue regarding women’s registration is that the staff of Nadra centers insists on issuing urgent cards or those with chips, which cost Rs1,000 and Rs1,600 respectively, which in itself is a big deterrent.”
She says the women come with an idea of getting a free CNIC but the staff is bent upon discouraging them by telling them that it may take ages to get a free CNIC or it may never arrive.
Abbasi, who is heading a project on increasing women participation in the political process in Chakwal, Jhelum, Sargodha, etc., says “at times Nadra officials are so rude and uncooperative that women abandon the idea of getting a CNIC and never come back. Even in case of a clerical mistake by Nadra staff, she says, “the burden is on the applicant to get it rectified at their own cost.”
Against this backdrop, Nadra has taken steps to increase women’s coverage in Nadra database. Mobile vans are of great importance in issuing CNICs to women at the doorstep, as normally they are reluctant to travel and visit Nadra Registration Centres due to unavailability of male family members and other cultural issues. The authority has identified certain areas where women registration is low and has deployed 80 Mobile Registration Vehicles (MRVs) in rural areas in order to improve registration amongst women.
To a query, the source says under the new directives men approaching them for registration are guided to register female members of their family as well and briefed about the benefits of doing so. “In culturally sensitive areas where women registration is low, 13 Nadra Registration Centres (NRC) with female staff have been established and designated for only women’s CNIC processing, while at other NRCs separate counters for tokens for female applicants have been established.”
Fridays have been designated as women registration days at most Nadra registration centres in order to exclusively cater to females. Married men, when applying for their children’s registration are also asked to register their spouses, if they are not already registered.
It is no more possible to get registration certificates for children without providing particulars of both the parents. Salman Abid, Regional Head of Strengthening Participatory Organisation, a non-profit advocacy, says the inability of Nadra to undo the discrepancies of the past is also creating problems. For example, he says, “people would not register their women family members in the past to deprive them of their right in inherited property. As they are missing in the family tree records, it has become difficult to issue CNICs to their progeny.”
Similarly, he says, Afghan refugees were issued CNICs by showing them as relatives of Pakistani Pashtuns when identity cards were issued through a manual process. “This has made life miserable for genuine applicants who are being asked to verify their identity, and women are no exception. Instead of making them go from one city to the other and bring half a century-old documents to prove their identity, Nadra should take this responsibility,” he suggests. “Having a CNIC is becoming far more than a choice and anybody without it, even women, can be branded a terrorist or an alien.”
Fauzia Viqar, Chairperson, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) says Nadra resources are limited and far less than required to register women who are still uncovered in the database. “The number of mobile vans at Nadra’s disposal is a small fraction of what is needed, keeping in view the magnitude of the task,” she says, adding, “Nadra has itself confessed that it does not have the capacity to issue CNICs to these women before elections.”