After years of war and turmoil in Afghanistan, women are seizing opportunities to participate in the progressing democracy of their country. But there are still barriers to their full and just inclusion in elections and governmental decision-making. Positive developments are fragile, as women are encountering shifting electoral conditions. For example, previously, 25% of seats in Provincial Councils had been reserved for women, but on Monday the proposed amount had been reduced to 20%.
A fair democracy provides for the inclusion of all citizens regardless of gender, but the male-dominated political arena in Afghanistan has been slow to integrate the true participation of women at various levels of the democratic process. Gender Concerns International supports the recognition of the human rights of women in enabling them to play more active roles as citizens of their own country.
An encouraging effort for change in the 2014 elections is being led by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Afghanistan. The Gender Mainstreaming part of their functions is aimed at increasing female participation and profile in the electoral processes as voters, candidates, electoral administrators, and observers. Gender Concerns International applauds the IEC for its women’s-participation initiatives that include voter registration drives, voter education and electoral operational plans.
Changes in attitudes and electoral practices can also be advanced by women’s networks that support and inform women who want to take part in the young democracy. Transparency of electoral conditions can be a key factor in increasing participation from both national and international communities. Greater engagement with Afghan journalists and media training from a gender-inclusive perspective by organization and election commissions can help increase transparency – which can lead to raised awareness, and result in increased general participation from male and female citizens of constituencies and larger communities.
It obviously takes courage and conviction for women to actively stand up for their inclusion as equal citizens in Afghanistan. Security concerns, campaign discrimination and unequal access to polling stations are only a few of the issues challenging women’s equal political participation. Afghan MP Farida Nikzad has stated that an overall goal for Afghanistan’s upcoming 2014 elections is “to give more opportunities to the innovative and brave women” in the country.