Islamabad: A leading Pakistani daily has described as "perfectly legitimate" a demand that elections be scrapped in those polling stations where no woman votes.
An editorial in the Dawn Wednesday said that in the 2008 general elections, according to Election Commission data, "over 560 female polling stations - nearly 480 of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - saw a zero percent turnout".
Over 580,000 women were registered at these stations.
The daily said that as the next countrywide polls approach, "recent by-elections indicate that this unacceptable state of affairs may well continue".
Pakistan has an estimated population of 180 million, half of whom are women.
It said that in by-elections held Saturday, women were effectively barred from voting at certain polling stations in Mardan and Mianwali.
The editorial said that these are not cases of women being physically held back from going to cast their votes.
"Instead, pandering to the conservatism of certain areas of the country, political candidates in those areas develop informal agreements, or at least understandings among themselves, that they will not try to bring out the female vote.
"Over time this regressive approach has taken hold to the point where voting for women in some constituencies has become as taboo as going to the mosque or walking into the male section of segregated wedding functions. It has, in other words, become the cultural norm, one perpetuated by those in a position of power," it added.
The National Commission on the Status of Women and the Free and Fair Election Network has demanded that the by-election results from the polling stations concerned - and therefore the constituencies in which they are located - be scrapped.
Calling it "a perfectly legitimate demand", the editorial bluntly said that "political parties need to be held accountable for failing to make it clear to their candidates that creating conditions that effectively bar women from voting is both unconstitutional and against the spirit of democracy".