Election Day in Afghanistan

 In Afghanistan, Blogroll, Peace Action
by Katherine Mullen, Peace Action Education Fund Intern

Concerns over voter intimidation, ballot stuffing and suicide bombings during Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections on Sept. 18 have been the top news items in mainstream media. Election watchdog groups, journalists and politicians have routinely commented on the low turnout of voters and the long road ahead in determining which of the nearly 2,500 candidates will fill 249 parliamentary seats. The Associated Press reported earlier this week that preliminary results are not likely until October, followed by weeks of anti-fraud investigations before winners are announced. What’s missing from many of these mainstream news reports, however, is the perspective of women’s rights organizations in Afghanistan that have a serious stake in the outcome of the election. In a letter to supporters on Sept. 18, Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women (WAW), wrote:

“People don’t have much hope; they feel the election is rigged and they are
afraid about the violence. I am also worried about Nasto Naderi, a popular
TV host – the Rush Limbaugh of this country – and candidate for Parliament.
He is against women’s organizations and women in general. He accuses
shelters of engaging in prostitution and is calling for their closure. His election
will not bode well for the work we do or the women we serve. On a positive note,
three women on the WAW staff, Azima Kohistani, Ramzia Mohammadi
and Semin Ahmadzai are standing for election…WAW has supported these
women to the extent permissible by law, and we are rooting for them.”

Of the nearly 2,500 candidates running in the election, 386 are women, as reported by The Christian Science Monitor. Twenty-five percent of the seats in parliament are set aside for women, as mandated by the Afghan constitution. According to the Afghanistan Congressional Communications Hub, women’s current parliamentary representation is 27.3 percent.
The parliamentary elections hold serious consequences for Afghan women beyond the short-term concerns of ballot counting, voter intimidation and violence by extremists. The winning candidates in this election will shape the country’s efforts toward the interrelated goals of peace-building, democracy and gender equity, of which the country is desperately needing. If elected, what could stop popular TV host Nasto Naderi from going after the closure of Women for Afghan Women’s network of shelters and family centers for women and men seeking refuge from human rights abuses? The consequences of such woman-hating beliefs add more long-term devastation and insecurity than an election day plagued with fraud, intimidation and bombs.

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