The much-delayed results of Afghanistan’s presidential election, held in September, were announced on Sunday, with the two leading candidates already heading into political dispute.
But more importantly for women in Afghanistan are their concerns about the fair and inclusive participation of women in the new government, one that is likely to enter into prospective negotiations with the Taliban.
According to data shared by the Independent Election Commission on Sunday, women voters comprised 31 per cent of the total voter turnout in the September election. This figure is dismally low compared to 2014 presidential election where women voter turnout was 36 per cent and 38 per cent, in both rounds respectively.
While the issue of security was partially responsible for the low turnout among women, many also believe the biometric photograph requirement, an unwelcome move for many conservative women who cover their faces, may have prevented them from casting their ballot.
Yet, many Afghan women’s rights activists see this as an opportunity for President Ashraf Ghani, who secured a second term as per the results, to involve more women in his Cabinet.
“At least 31 per cent of the government belongs to women; it means that 31 per cent of women risked their lives and voted. They did so based on the promises the candidates made during their campaign to empower them,” Samira Hamidi, regional campaigner with Amnesty International and a prominent Afghan activist, said.
“The representation of women at the provincial level is very weak. There are hardly any women present in remote provinces like Kandahar, and even then they are not in leadership and decision making roles,” she said, adding that the inclusion of women in the Afghan capital alone is not enough.
This concern is amplified when put into the context of prospective peace negotiations with the Taliban. For many Afghan women, the years of the Taliban regime evoke terrifying memories of gender suppression and loss of rights. “This is not only a country for men; this is also our country,” Balqis Ehsan, a 22-year-old activist in Kabul, told The National.
“Afghan women make up for half of the population and I believe should have half of the representation in the government and be able to play a role in all aspects of governance, including any negotiations of national interest,” she said, referring to the Afghan government’s initiative to engage with the Taliban.
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