Women Returning Officers Help Strengthen Democracy
The atmosphere is electric; the room is abuzz with phones ringing constantly, staff preparing for the arrival of ballot bags, presiding officers from various polling stations calling to ask for ballot papers and other polling materials. One person is issuing directions, ensuring things stay under control.
- The Cantonment Board Elections were held for the first time in 17 years in Pakistan.
- UNDP helped ECP develop a curriculum which included problem solving, methods of conducting the elections and other materials such as rules and regulations for the returning officers.
- Training of returning officers was conducted by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and supported by UNDP.
Ammara Ammar is the young Additional Cantonment Executive Officer running the show. She has the additional responsibility as a Returning Officer and is responsible for overseeing candidates' scrutiny papers, nomination papers, allotting voting materials, observing the code of conduct and ensuring the elections started on time at 8o'clock sharp on April 25.
The Cantonment Board Elections were held for the first time in 17 years in Pakistan and Ammara had been preparing for the elections since a month. She went through the training of a Returning officer which was conducted by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). UNDP helped ECP develop a curriculum which included problem solving, methods of conducting the elections and other materials such as rules and regulations for the returning officers.
On the day of the elections, Ammara is available to all the presiding officers she is supervising through her cell phone. The 28-year old has a master’s in Applied Chemistry and said the most rewarding and challenging part of being in the civil service is the interaction with the public and the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives with limited resources.
Ammara said that despite having more than 4 years of work experience at the Cantonment Board and supervising some 1500 people it sometimes becomes challenging to deal with people as the public behavior changes with the socio-political environment of the country. Being a young lady officer, extra effort has to be made to make people realize that one should be taken seriously. She has an open-door policy and everyone can access her office with their problems anytime.
Being a Returning Officer is no easy task. On the day of the elections, Ammara was responsible for result compilation, supervising the results calculation for all the five wards she was overseeing; all under the scrutiny of the media and political parties' representatives who were present throughout. A total of 15,6187 people were registered to vote on April 25 at the five wards Ammara is supervising; including 102 polling stations, 303 booths and 102 presiding officers with their allied staff.
Ammara, has a two and a half year old daughter, and said her husband and in-laws are very supportive which makes it possible for her to multitask and sit for late hours in office. Even though being a Returning Officer is a challenging job for a woman, she enjoys it.
Speaking about what it is like for a woman working in a government institution in Pakistan, she says, "Women come across challenges every day. We have to continuously prove ourselves in our jobs and keep a balance in our family lives. In our society it is not easy for a woman to pursue her career without the support of her family. There are a lot of expectations from us and we are also expected to perform at par with our male counterparts as well.”
Ammara thinks having more women ROs will make the elections process more transparent. "I loved working as a Returning Officer. It was extremely challenging but worth it. If my team ensures transparency of the election results, I would consider it to be our biggest success."