Enhancing women’s political participation is at the forefront of preparation for Afghanistan’s next set of presidential and provincial elections. The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) has partnered with the Asia Foundation to launch a new project that will support voter turnout among women in the April 2014 election as well as female elected officials and candidates running for office.
With 4.5 million pounds of funding from the United Kingdom, the project, entitled “Increasing Women’s Political Participation and Dialogue Opportunities in Afghanistan,” will run through December 2015. The Asia Foundation announced that the project will not only boost the ability of women to vote, but would also “provide capacity-building assistance to female members of parliament, female provincial councilors and potential female candidates to run in 2014-2015 elections” and “support women candidates to deliver campaign messages, facilitate networking and mentoring events with public figures and civil society organizations.” In announcing the program, UK Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander emphasized, “Women are key to building a democratic and safe country. They are the future of Afghanistan.”
The IEC has been working to advance Afghan women’s participation in the electoral process through the establishment of a Gender Unit in 2009, targeted public education directed at women voters, the use of female polling staff and observers, and the development of appropriate security measures. Challenges to female candidacy and voter turnout remain, including inaccessibility of polling booths for women in remote areas as well as concerns for the safety of female candidates and voters. Despite these challenges, however, over four million Afghan citizens voted in the 2010 parliamentary election. About 39 percent of these voters were women, and women made up 15 percent of parliamentary candidates. Currently, women hold 28 percent of seats in the National Parliament.