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KABUL, 21 July (IRIN) - Female civic educators have been dispatched to provincial areas of Afghanistan to promote awareness of the forthcoming parliamentary elections among women, officials at the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) announced on Thursday in the capital, Kabul.
According to MoWA, the 10-day programme, which began last week, involves 63 women meeting village leaders and approaching the local media, mosques, NGOs and schools to help with the information campaign.
"We have to use all possible means to deliver election information to women in rural areas where the majority of women are illiterate," Nafisa Kohistani a MoWA public information officer said. Cultural sensitivities and discrimination against women are likely to discourage female involvement in the historic poll slated for 18 September, observers say.
"The teams will also encourage and identify women who will voluntarily help election staff on voting day," Kohistani said, adding that every team consists of three female educators and aims to target at least 1,000 women per province.
"Then, these targeted women will further convey the election messages to fellow women in their communities," she said.
The voter education project is costing US $ 10,000 and is funded by the government of the Netherlands.
Up to 6,000 Afghans have registered to stand in the legislature and provincial council elections. According to the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) of the 2,915 people who have registered to stand for the 249 seat general assembly, 347 are women. Afghan electoral law requires that at least 68 seats in the general assembly be reserved for women.
Despite their second-class status in much of Afghanistan, women appear committed to the country's democratic process. More than 40 percent of the eight million who voted in last October's presidential election were women.
Even so, it is a huge task to educate the entire Afghan people about the electoral process, its significance and how the whole process works.
"It is more lack of information than security or conservatism. Often women don't know why they should go to the polling stations again after last October's presidential elections," Najiba Maram, a local journalist and deputy director of the Voice of Afghan Women radio station in Kabul, said.
MOWA's initiative follows a massive national civic education campaign run by the JEMB. Since the beginning of May four million posters, seven million pamphlets and one million stickers, carrying information about the general assembly and provincial council elections, have been distributed across the country. The JEMB has also deployed nearly 2,000 civic educators to raise awareness of the elections.
"Of the 13 million eligible voters, our direct outreach activities aim to target 6.9 million voters - over half the electorate," Samantha Aucock, head of the JEMB public outreach programme, said.
Every medium has been utilised to deliver the election message. As might be expected, these include the print media and both private and state radio services. Slightly more novel has been the use of Afghanistan's fledgling state television service and even mobile theatre groups. These have been dispatched to rural areas to stimulate understanding and interest in the election process which is a novel experience for the vast majority of Afghans.
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