Thu, Oct 18, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Record number of women join Afghan election

Over 400 women are running in Saturday’s parliamentary polls, but some warn having female lawmakers is more about symbolism

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain  /  Reuters, KABUL

More female candidates than ever are set to contest Afghanistan’s parliamentary election on Saturday, braving violence and opposition from social conservatives in a campaign seen as a test of the war-torn nation’s democratic institutions.

“Elections in my country are not just about victory or defeat,” said Dewa Niazai, a 26 year-old candidate from the eastern province of Nangarhar, who holds a degree in computer science from India. “It is about launching a small-scale war. I can get killed, injured or abducted.”

Niazai is one of the 417 women candidates contesting seats across the nation, despite deadly suicide attacks on election rallies and offices apparently aimed at forcing voters to boycott the vote.

She said she wants to be a voice for uneducated women who are not represented in parliament and to defend girls’ rights to education — the Islamic State group has blown up several girls’ schools in her Nangarhar constituency.

The growing involvement of women has been welcomed by the UN and other international bodies, which see the elections as a vital step in building trust in democratic processes.

KILLINGS, ABDUCTIONS

Campaigning is fraught with risks regardless of gender. Nine candidates, including one woman, have been killed in separate attacks.

Another two have been abducted and four others have been wounded by hardline Muslim militants, election officials said.

Last week a blast at an election rally of a female candidate in the northeastern province of Takhar killed 22 people and wounded 35.

Nazifa Yousuf Bek, the female candidate, was standing about 10m away when the explosion occurred.

“My supporters were waiting to listen to my speech, but in a few seconds I was surrounded by their bodies,” the 32-year-old teacher said. “I am shaken, but I am also determined to continue the election campaign. This is my responsibility.”

For women, there are additional challenges, said Maria Bashir, Afghanistan’s first female prosecutor from Herat Province, who like other women candidates interviewed had until recently never seriously contemplated entering politics.

“In comparison with male candidates, women have more problems in the election race ... insecurity and harassment inhibit women’s mobility and justify family restrictions,” she said.

Echoing other women candidates who spoke to reporters, Bashir said she is standing for election after growing dismayed with the direction of the nation, starting with the failure of the government to improve security or safeguard women’s rights.

Unable to hold open rallies because of security concerns, Bashir invites voters to attend political discussions at her home and travels around the city at night to distribute publicity pamphlets and encourage voters to cast their ballot.

Sabri Andar, the only female candidate with disabilities, is contesting a seat in Kabul.

She said her main focus would be on ensuring rights legislation was not ignored.

IMPLEMENTATION

“Laws about equality exist on paper, but they are yet to implemented,” she said. “As a lawmaker I want to ensure we practice what is written in our constitution.”

Women’s rights advocates say that, despite the heavy emphasis placed on promoting equality by international donors, age-old scourges such as child marriage or the murder of women by family members in so-called “honor killings” remain rife.

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