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Elections 2014: What women want

Masood Momin
5.04.2014  |  Various Afghan provinces

Habib Danish

Habiba Danish, parliamentarian representing Takhar Province

I think any woman who has stood up for something in Afghanistan has been threatened. The main reason for this is a week judiciary and other government institutions that have a discriminatory view of women. There are few who believe that women's rights are a national value. There are even women in the parliament who do not share this belief.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth rounds in parliament, we failed to establish a group of female parliamentarians who work strongly for women rights and related issues. As long as the system of punishment versus reward is not in place, one cannot expect much. For instance, the President of Afghanistan issued a decree banning every type of violence against women, we were unfortunately unable to pass it due to discriminatory views some hold against women.

We have not accomplished much if we put it in the context of the comprehensive assistance we received from the international community. Our expectation was the placement of women in key positions. It never happened. Women have been placed in symbolic positions. A good example is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The other issue in the country is the lack of rule of law. There is no enforcement mechanism for a decree. These are some of the reasons why women have not accomplished as much as they should have. The Constitution of Afghanistan recognizes positive discrimination when it comes to women and their rights. In cities, women are able to work side by side with men. This did not happen in the past.

The challenge in Afghanistan is the Taliban mentality. The withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan has impacted morale in Afghanistan. Decline in foreign aid, involvement of the international community in other countries and Afghanistan’s foreign policy towards the international community has raised women’s concerns about the withdrawal of foreign troops. The Taliban mentality is coming to Afghanistan, some with modern clothing and some with the Taliban clothing.

We should not forget that the women’s community is not a politicized one. It is a community of honesty and integrity. For this reason, women can play a major role in determining the leadership of Afghanistan when compared with men. The number of women is larger than that of men. Women vote for the one they think will be helpful for Afghanistan. There is no betrayal or deal in their votes.

There are women who will vote like their husbands, tribal leaders or local commanders. There is no education in those areas. They have no independence when it comes to their votes.

Women’s votes are very influential. Female parliamentarians and female members of provincial councils have provided an opportunity for women in Afghanistan to raise their voice. I urge Afghan women to participate in the elections in pursuit of education and a better life. I want the future government of Afghanistan to develop economic projects to promote women's rights.

Alema Alema

Dr. Alema Alema, Chairman of Afghan Women's Political Participation Committee

Women have made accomplishments in the past decade, one of which is the Constitution, which women count on. It should not be changed or amended. Although this Constitution has its shortcomings, we want it untouched for the time being.

When they talk of changing the Constitution and say that except for one article, everything else has to be changed, I feel extremely alarmed. If that happens, all the accomplishments Afghan women have made would be undermined. In light of this Constitution, some other laws have been developed and enforced. One of those laws is the legislation barring any type of violence against women.

 Legislation banning violence against women is a good law— unfortunately, it is not enforced the way it should be, as it is not complemented by other laws. There must be established special courts and special prosecution teams to enforce this legislation. We have them in some provinces, but not in all. If we had them in all provinces, violence against women would drop drastically all over Afghanistan.

Another major accomplishment of this Constitution is setting up a quota system, which has allowed women to be represented in the parliament. Women have actively participated in the previous presidential and parliamentary elections, both as candidates and voters. In the first presidential elections, women made up 40% of the voters and 39% of the voters in the second presidential elections. With all that, in some cases, they lost in the elections. I can tell you that women in Afghanistan are a bank of votes and in both of the previous elections, they gave legitimacy to the system and the government. Later, they were unfortunately marginalized and their issues were not addressed.

Another accomplishment of women is that they have managed to participate in the decision-making processes and hold power. It is of course relative. I always use the word relative when discussing these issues. For example, in a 25-member cabinet, there were only three women and they were given those positions based on their contacts and relations. Women are only represented by eight percent in key positions or decision-making processes. Women should be represented by 30% in these key positions by 2018.

Another reason why I use the word relative is that nothing fundamental has changed. Over the past decades, women have been the main victims of wars. In addition to our customs and tradition, we have not had a good security situation. In a patriarchal society, resources and wealth are not fairly distributed. Women did not have as many educational opportunities. For this reason, only 12% of women can read and write. One of our priorities was to promote education for women yet no gender-friendly budget has been allocated. The Ministry of Education of Afghanistan has only allocated one percent of its budget for vital education.

For the first time in the history of Afghanistan, a peaceful transition of power will take place. We are hopeful of the future and we have shared our demands with the presidential candidates. In addition to other activities, we have launched a campaign named “Who will have my vote?” in Kabul and other provinces to encourage women to vote. We have asked all women to wisely vote and vote for candidates based on their programs and policies.

In April of last year, an advocacy group for women’s political rights comprised of female parliamentarians, Ministry of Women Affairs, civil society institutions, media and independent activists was founded. Through this group, we have frequently contacted Afghanistan Ministry of Interior Affairs, Afghanistan Independent Elections Commission and the government of Afghanistan to develop policies and strategies to make sure men do not cast votes for women. We told them that all people working in polling stations should be women, serious monitoring should happen, polling stations should be easily accessible and not far from residential areas, and polling stations should safe and secure, like schools, clinics, etc.

Our other suggestion was that Afghanistan Independent Elections Commission and candidates should provide translation for women. Our specific suggestion to the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Afghanistan was the deployment of female officers at polling stations. Unfortunately, we do not have enough female officers. It is a challenge. Recently, the Ministry of Interior of Afghanistan announced that it will deploy 13,000 female officers to polling stations for security and searches. This is good news.

The so-called elites and powerful individuals do not given many campaign opportunities to women. Women are threatened. There are some conditions in the Election Law that women have a hard time meeting and have caused women not to run for president.  Collecting 100,000 voting cards within a short period of time and given the security situation in Afghanistan is pretty impossible. Fraud is another huge problem. Women were concerned that there would be fraud so they chose not to run for the president of Afghanistan, fearing they will not get votes. We have women who are able to run for president in Afghanistan.

Maryam Ghamgosar

Maryam Ghamgosar, journalist and Director of Voice of Afghan Women Journalists

There is no doubt that women have accomplished a lot in the past thirteen years—women can go to school, be politically active, participate in the health, economic, agricultural and educational sectors and hold peaceful demonstrations to demand their rights. And they can participate in elections – which is vital to the future of Afghanistan. Women’s votes do count.

Yet violence against women has escalated over the past ten years. Reports indicate that women have been stoned, tried in courts that have no official authority and been tortured in the most inhumane ways imaginable. Women are seen in the context of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, that is it.

The future government of Afghanistan should know that today’s generation is not yesterday’s generation. Today, women cannot be silenced. They demand equal rights. Movements led by people have shown that the future government of Afghanistan cannot simply deceive people into their deceitful programs and policies. As a journalist, a citizen of Afghanistan and finally as a woman, I urge the future government of Afghanistan not to pretend to be democratic.

When they talk about rights, the role of women and equal rights, they should really materialize what they say. They should let the pain of Afghan women turn into projects. They should allow the first lady of Afghanistan to participate in national and international meetings. They should let women participate in every aspect of society and major decisions of the country. The legislation banning every type of discrimination against women should be enforced.  Only the law protects women in Afghanistan.

Laws should prevent women from being tried in courts that have no judicial and legal authority; prevent from women being beaten, raped, tortured and killed for no reason; support widows of martyrs of Afghanistan; work to exterminate unpleasant customs and traditions, like forced marriages, selling and buying girls, etc; provide women with mental, physical and job security. I urge the future government of Afghanistan to deliver on its promises. I hope the future leadership of Afghanistan, unlike the previous leadership of Afghanistan, will work for women’s rights inside and outside of their homes. 

Recently, women have been very concerned about discussions over the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement and the upcoming elections. They fear that once all foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the government will make deals undermining the accomplishments women have made over the past thirteen years. There is no doubt that women journalists would also be affected should this happen. The possibility that the Taliban will have a role in the future government of Afghanistan and its potential unpleasant consequences have convinced some women journalists to censor themselves. At this critical and fateful time, women journalists, like other Afghan women, are experiencing the worst period in their careers. 

Today, women know that elections are vital to them and their country. They have learned that they have to be careful with their votes if they want to have a better future and attain equal rights.

Ms Paradies

Ms. Paradise, singer from Band 143

My career requires that I have a close relationship to people, but our people are not as open-minded and do not seem to be okay with a woman demonstrating her talent and capabilities. In many cases, women are at home. Afghan women should learn that they are half of the society and that they have to take responsibility in solving problems. Women have been deprived of their right to education, do not seem to be valued in the political arena and are often addressed by belittling words.

Fortunately, when President Hamid Karzai’s administration came to power, the doors to a socially and culturally prosperous society were opened. We have many media outlets all over the country, playing a huge role in promoting a socially and culturally prosperous society. Women have managed to express their presence in the society. Women are still not as involved in economy as they should be, but when compared to the past, it is like a revolution. Women can get an education and provide education to others, work, play sports and get medals. Women can be artists and President Hamid Karzai always tried to help Afghan women accomplish their rights and status.

In my opinion, women and men are considered equal in Islam. One of the duties of men is provide for their wives, but many Afghan men have misinterpreted this and used this as an excuse to deprive women of their rights to education, getting a job or simply going out of the house. The other problem is the traditional nature of our society. Men are accustomed to harassing women in the public and women seriously suffer from it.

In my opinion, women played a huge role in the previous elections and their votes did really make a difference for the candidates. Their role is also critical in the upcoming elections. This is a great opportunity for women to vote for the right person and choose someone who would help women with their fight for their rights and equality. Among candidates, there are many women and it is good news for a prosperous Afghanistan. In addition, presidential candidates fortunately have a lot to say about issues related to economy, education, commerce, etc. But the majority of candidates do not have specific policies for artists that include singers, actors, actresses, drawers, reporters, etc. Unfortunately, there are some candidates who give no value to women. My fear is that should these individuals come to power; the role and status of artists will be undermined.

I think that women voting is only one point. We need to know what happens once their votes are cast. Around 30% of the voters are women and every woman votes with hopes and dreams. After the voting, let’s wait and see what the future president of Afghanistan will do for women. I urge the future president of Afghanistan not to imprison women in their homes and let them be a part of the society and work should-to-shoulder with men.

Saba Sahar

Saba Sahar, Director of Saba Film, author, director and actress

Over the past twelve years, promises were not delivered as well as we wanted. Initially, we were very optimistic and believed that everything Afghan officials said about women issues would be implemented. They did not deliver any of their promises and women did not accomplish their rights the way they should have. If women were given equal rights, there would be less violence against them now. Unfortunately, over the past thirteen years, violence against women has escalated.

Those who pretended to be champions of women rights were really nothing. A woman runs away from home to avoid being forced into marriage with an old man. She gets prosecuted and imprisoned.

Women have made progress in society but their progress is very limited. We cannot focus on a few women who work for the government.  Unfortunately, women could not run for the president of Afghanistan. I am really sorry. Why should it be like this? We had thirty presidential candidates. There was not one single woman among them. It is clear that enough has not been done for women rights and promoting their status in the society. We have women in ministries but their role is very symbolic.

Women are back warded in this country and men have always the final say. Nobody has ever listened to women. I only pray to God and hope that we will have peace and security across Afghanistan. I hope a just individual comes to power and gives women the rights God and Shariah have given them.

Voting is a right every Afghan man and woman has. Our problem is that Afghanistan is a patriarchal and traditional country. Women are not allowed to go to polling stations by themselves and vote. I urge all women to be courageous and fight for their rights.

Every presidential candidate talks about the right of women to education, employment and freedom. I think rights are not given but taken. For this reason, women should move and take their rights. Women should see themselves as strong and powerful.