Afghanistan: Tough road for women standing for election

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

KABUL, 6 July (IRIN) - Female candidates hoping to stand in the forthcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for September, say poor security and strong conservative traditions are hampering their ability to compete in the historic poll.

Women wanting to stand in the election, particularly in rural areas, said they had been warned to withdraw their candidacy, either verbally or by letter.

"I have been threatened and persuaded to resign," a female candidate in the southeastern province of Paktya, said on condition of anonymity. She said local religious conservatives were behind the threat.

Meanwhile local officials in the central province of Wardak said a female candidate's house was rocketed in early June by unknown armed men but that the motive remains unclear.

Another female candidate was wounded when she was shot by an unidentified gunman in Qalat, the provincial capital of the southern province of Zabul, on June 10.

In another incident, armed men set fire to the house of a female candidate in the village of Porak, in Logar province in the southeast of the country, according to the state-run Kabul Times newspaper.

More than 6,000 Afghans have registered to stand in the legislature and provincial council elections. According to Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) of the 2,915 people who have registered to run for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, 347 are women. Afghan electoral law requires that at least 68 seats in the general assembly be reserved for women.

It is not only lack of security that is discouraging female politicians. In many rural areas, women voters cannot even attend public meetings, so female candidates have to meet women inside their homes if they wish to campaign.

"Female candidates also cannot attend gatherings and show themselves to the people in rural areas. This is very bad in the south and east of the country," said Safya Sediqi a female candidate in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Lack of resources is also discriminating against women and their ability to effectively campaign for election.

"Women are also very poorly off financially in comparison to men. They cannot afford to organise big public gatherings," Sediqi noted.

Some observers are concerned that the constitution requires a certain percentage of legislature seats to be filled by women but the state is failing to give women a fair opportunity to fulfill the quota.

"The government and the JEMB should allocate special assistance and facilities for female candidates, so that, to ensure a balanced election campaign for men and women." (is this Sediqi?)

But JEMB officials said there was no need to afford women candidates any additional help.

"Women enjoy all the privileges and support the men do and no exceptional assistance can be considered," Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a JEMB spokesman said.

The board's spokesman agreed women in conservative rural areas would probably put up a weaker campaign compared to their male counterparts.

"But with the help of the Ministry of Women's Affairs we will try to get their messages out through female school teachers, women gatherings and other local events," he maintained.


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