Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Women show greater interest in September polls

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KABUL, 3 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - With less than seven weeks to September's historic parliamentary elections, women have shown greater interest in participating, the Afghan-UN joint electoral management body (JEMB) announced on Wednesday in the capital Kabul.

According to the electoral body, there had already been a marked increase in women's voter registration - particularly in the troubled south and southeastern provinces where no or very few women had registered during last October's presidential elections.

"It is very encouraging that in Afghanistan after so many years without elections, already women's participation is pretty high level," Rebecca Cox, a member of the JEMB, observed.

In fact, women's registration was already quite close to 50 percent, the JEMB member explained, noting the progress to date. Of the over 12 million registered voters in Afghanistan today, more than 40 percent of the total were female.

Meanwhile, JEMB officials said voter registration by Afghan women increased by 35 percent in conservative southern Urozgan province and 23 percent in southern Helmand province.

"In the Ajristan district of Ghazni [southern province] no women registered last year; this year 13,000 women registered. In the Dasho district of Helmand province, only one woman registered last year; this year 1,361 women registered as eligible voters," Momena Yari, another member of the electoral body, explained.

She also said that the provinces of Khost and Paktia in southeastern Afghanistan showed a greater number of women as candidates and voters. Of the 5,800 candidates registered to stand for the Wolesi Jerga (lower house) and provincial councils elections set for 18 September, 582 were women.

JEMB noted of the 2,900 people registered to run for the 249-seat Wolesi Jerga, nearly 350 were women. Afghan electoral law requires that at least 68 seats in the general assembly be reserved for women.

"Afghanistan is one of 20 countries in the world, which has verified 27 percent women representation in the parliament," Yari said, adding that to increase more women's participation on voting day, the number of polling centres would increase from 5,000 to 6,000 - comprising 30,000 polling stations.

Yet despite JEMB's optimistic appraisal, female candidates hoping to stand in the forthcoming parliamentary elections maintain poor security and strong conservative traditions continue to hamper their ability to compete in the polls. In many rural areas, women voters cannot even attend public meetings, forcing female candidates to meet women inside their homes if they wish to campaign.

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