I finally feel like I can begin the voter registration project, the reason I was sent to Afghanistan. After a slow start of miscommunications and lack of information, I feel like my internship has truly taken off. It was very frustrating for the first few weeks to sit in the AWN office, without knowing exactly what to do. With Sadiqa Basiri, the Advocacy Manager of AWN, in the U.S. for the past month, I think the remaining AWN staff did also not know what to do with us. It was frustration for both Ginny and I, as well as the AWN staff.
I had met Sadiqa in Washington DC before I left for Kabul, and immediately could see the reason why she played such an important role at AWN. She is 23 years old, yet has dedicated her life to AWN and improving the lives of women in Afghanistan.
Ginny and I talked with her about projects we are currently working on, registering women for the upcoming elections and building girls’ schools in the provinces. I will be concentrating mainly on the voter registration project. I feel like finally, after two weeks of settling in and working out communication problems, I can begin the project I was sent here for.
AWN recently completed a project to register women voters in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Peshawar. Registration for the upcoming election has been slow throughout the country, but women have faced especially daunting barriers. There is little information for women about the new Constitution, the details of the election, and the importance of voting.
Since many women in Afghanistan are illiterate and have little communication with the outside world, most women do not have access to information about the election and voting process. There are also many logistical obstacles for women’s voter registration in Afghanistan. Many voter registration centers are in remote places where women cannot reach.
Furthermore, most women, especially in the provinces, cannot travel without a male relative, their ability to register depends on the permission of a father, brother, or husband. Although legally all women here have the right to vote, many from conservative families are not allowed to. Security is also a concern for voter registration, and many people have been threatened, injured, or killed simply for registering to vote.
AWN set up a program to educate women about the importance of voting. Groups of approximately 30 women in each city (Kabul, Jalalabad, Peshawar) attending a two-day training program on voter registration awareness, information about the importance of political participation, an introduction to the new Constitution, and information on the presidential candidates.
With eight training sessions in each city, this came to a total of about 250 women in each city that were made more aware of their political rights and the importance of voting. The vast majority of the women who completed the training program then registered to vote.
My job will be to monitor the success of the training sessions, to research the voter registration program, and to write a report chronicling the results. I hope to visit voter registration sites and talk to both the election registration monitors and the women registering. It is interesting to see how women in Afghanistan react to finally being able to have political voice in almost a decade of silence.
It is an exciting time to be in Kabul with the elections looming, but a frightening time as well. This afternoon I read that five people were killed in Herat by a bomb detonated in the street. In the past few weeks there have been several other stories of Afghan and Western election aid workers being killed. Last month as many as 17 Afghan Hazara men were pulled off a bus and killed simply because they were carrying voter registration cards.
However, even with all the violence and threats against registered Afghans, the process continues. The goal is to register 10 million Afghans by the elections, and so far it has been estimated that 6 million people have already registered, almost 40% of them women.
Only this weekend it was announced that the election would be postponed yet again due to security threats, the inability to register the required number of people to date, and a lack of dispersed funds. The Presidential election is scheduled for October 9th (with the Parliamentary elections taking place in April or May of 2005), but since the elections seems to be postponed every month or so, who knows what will happen?
With the elections nearing, this project seems especially interesting to me. Voting is something that I, and many people in the United States, view as an innate right. I cannot fathom what is must be like to not be able to have a say in the country in which I live. I really hope to be able to visit an election site, perhaps travel to Peshawar to talk to women registering to vote there, and witness the general atmosphere of anticipation before the fall election.
Posted By Sarah Schores (Afghanistan)
Posted Jul 11th, 2004