Afghan Women in Politics Afghanistan is a war torn country that has suffered damage to all aspects of society. For over two decades, continuous political upheavals have resulted in economic, physical, and psychological suffering for all Afghans. The particular struggles which women face in Afghanistan today are indicative of this systematic denial of women’s rights to the detriment of their active participation in society. The violation of their rights over the last two decades reveals a lack of awareness and insensitivity to gender amongst both Afghan men and women.
While the discrimination encountered by Afghan women in rural and urban areas differs, its root causes are often similar and affected by both cultural and political goals. Some of this discrimination is generated by a lack of information and the misinterpretation of gender as defined by tradition and religion. Other gender discriminations originate directly out of the power struggles that have plagued Afghanistan. Both are assumed to be fundamental aspects of Afghan culture. The result is a mindset in Afghan society to accept and expect women’s roles as passive and even irrelevant agents in the development and social progression of Afghanistan.
With parliamentary elections approaching in September, it is crucial that candidates get the support that they need. Yesterday, AWN helped in the establishment of a women’s advocacy group dedicated to bringing independent women candidates to the forefront of the election and providing them with the support of female constituents in civil society and the private sector.
The new Afghan constitution states that at least 68 – two from each province – of the 249-member lower house must be women and 17 percent of the upper house of Parliament is reserved for women. However, the male-dominated Afghan society where the gun still rules makes women’s participation in the political process very hard. Political violence against women is evident. Recently there was a demonstration in the central province of Bamyan against a recent government decision to appoint a female governor to the province. Local commanders and warlords had forced people to attend the demonstration because they did not want women in positions of authority in the country.
While women are guaranteed seats in the parliament, their mere presence will not automatically give them their share of influence on the decision-making processes. The experiences with the Emergency and the Constitutional Loya Jirga have raised concerns that many of the female delegates will serve mainly symbolic purposes in order to comply with the expectations of the international community. Many of them will be sent and instructed by men with no women’s rights on the agenda.
Female networking and the building of a broad platform of women are essential in the struggle for women’s emancipation in Afghanistan. Historically, there has never been an organized bottom-up women’s movement. Most women’s rights in Afghan history were granted from the top. That is why many activists today stress that women need to fight for their rights rather than rights being granted to them due to international pressure.
There are more than 80 registered political parties in the country but female membership remains low. The experience of the past means many educated women fear joining a political party. The incentives for joining a party before the elections are very low, for men and for women. Parties have a bad name in Afghanistan. They are made responsible for the civil war. Party politics is equaled to criminal activities, fighting and acting for personal benefits. That is why most women strongly emphasize their independence as candidates.
The parliamentary elections in September are going to be a milestone for all Afghans. The work that AWN did yesterday was important for women now and especially in the future. I am so grateful that I was able to be a part of it. One hundred years from now, children (both boys and girls) will be reading about this time in history books, women and men will be equal in society, and everyone will have the chance at a good education. AWN will have had an integral part in making that happen for Afghanistan.
Posted By Carrie Hasselback (Afghanistan)
Posted Aug 9th, 2005