Afghan Women Run for Office Amid Increasing Intimidation and Threats

Nearly 600 Afghan women are running for office in the country’s first legislative elections since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In an important step forward for women in Afghanistan, the constitution approved last year reserved 25 percent of the lower parliamentary seats for women, with a similar percentage of seats reserved in the 34 newly forming local councils, reports BBC News. However, women running for office in Afghanistan face a myriad of obstacles, including lack of information about election and campaign procedures, lack of free movement and other travel restrictions on women, fewer financial resources than men, and an increasing lack of security, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday. Afghanistan’s month-long campaign period began yesterday, with women accounting for only 12 percent of the lower parliamentary candidates and 8 percent of local council candidates.

The Taliban and other insurgent forces and warlords opposed to the elections and to women’s participation in particular pose a serious threat to women’s political participation, HRW reports. Through intimidation, threats of violence, and violent attacks targeting women, these groups have contributed to what HRW calls a “pervasive atmosphere of fear” making it even more difficult for women to run for and fill the reserved parliamentary and council seats. HRW reports several incidents in the month of July in which women candidates or election officials were threatened or attacked.

Human Rights Watch has called on international agencies and the government of Afghanistan to do more to protect women running for office. Security in Afghanistan has been deteriorating for months now, and the increasing need for more peacekeeping troops has not been met. Women’s and human rights organizations, including the Feminist Majority, have continued to demand more funding for security and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. HRW is urging immediate funding for security and also for Afghanistan’s election budget, which falls far short of the resources needed to provide basic election security measures, implementation of fair election procedures, and much needed protection to women candidates.

“Hundreds of women have chosen to brave risks to their personal safety in order to have a voice in the country’s emergency political institutions. The Afghan government, domestic and international observers, and the international community must work together to support Afghan women’s political participation,” concludes the HRW report.

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BBC News 8/14/05; Daily Times 8/18/05; HWR ÒCampaign Against Fear: WomenÕs Participation in AfghanistanÕs 2005 ElectionsÓ 8/05

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