Women Delegates Protest Loya Jirga Voting Process, One Woman Elected

Women delegates at Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, grand council, are protesting that their male colleagues are trying to shut them out of leadership positions and that the men treat the women like second-class citizens. A female delegate from Kabul stated, “from the very beginning the process was flawed because we are totally outnumbered here by the men…It was symbolically important for a woman to be in a high position, but the bigger battle will be over the constitution,” reports the Associated Press.

The Loya Jirga began meeting on Sunday to debate Afghanistan’s draft constitution, including women’s rights and the role Islam will play in the country’s future. On Monday delegates voted to fill two deputy chair seats. Sixteen delegates ran for the deputy posts including three women. One was won by Mirwais Yasini, the Director of the Counter Narcotics Department and another man was elected to the second deputy seat. The defeat of all three women candidates left women outraged. Chairman Mujaddedi then created a third deputy chair position and selected Safia Siddiqui, reports the Associated Press. Siddiqui is the former Director of Planning and Foreign Relations in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Women’s rights and human rights advocates are worried that the limited rights guarantees in the current draft of the constitution may be negotiated away in an attempt to win votes for a strong presidential system. They are already concerned that the constitution lacks essential rights protections for women’s rights. For example, it lacks language explicitly defining “citizens” as both women and men and leaves women’s rights in many areas vulnerable to interpretation of Islam. In addition, the current version of the constitution does not contain language to protect Afghan women from forced marriage, early marriage, or protect women’s property rights.

The Loya Jirga is made up of 500 Afghans – including 116 women. International peacekeepers have been providing security for the delegates after warning that extremists may try to attack it. According to the Associated Press, a missile was fired towards the headquarters on Saturday.

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Associated Press 12/15/03; Reuters 12/14/03; Washington Post 12/14/03; Agence France Presse 12/15/03

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