How Elections Use Quotas for Women

women voters 2

Women’s participation in the next government of Afghanistan is one of the most important issues being discussed in Afghan media and politics today. But there are hidden dimensions in the election rules that I want to clarify.

Under the old election laws, there was a quota system that reserved 25 percent of the seats for women. In our 2009 Bamiyan provincial elections, there were 94 candidates, including only six women running. There are nine seats in total, so 25 percent of the seats went to three women and 75 percent went to six men.

This time we are seeing a very big difference. We have 53 candidates running and 13 of them are women.

The increase in the number of women running clearly shows the improvement of awareness and commitment of women. It shows women are feeling more responsible for their rights and the need to be represented in the political process and we hope to have a very high rate of voting by women on Election Day.

But while the old election laws set aside 25 percent of the seats for women, a few months ago the parliament lowered the quota to 20 percent. Despite many protests by women’s rights activists and human rights organizations, parliament changed the quota, saying women needed to compete more equally and 25 percent does not represent the actual active participation in society of women.

In Bamiyan, this could mean that only two women will be in the next provincial council instead of three, and it could discourage women from participating in elections in the future.

The only way for women to keep their three seats in the provincial council is to have a very widespread participation by women voters on Election Day. If this happens, perhaps we could have more than two women elected.

By Zakia H.

Photo by Massoud Hossaini. 


  1. Alice Bullard says:

    This is an interesting essay. In the U.S. we also have a problem of not enough women participating in politics. There are a many reasons for this, but we really need for women to be involved in politics otherwise the men do everything they want, and they don’t always want the best things for women. Do you think you might run for election one day?

  2. Dear Zakia,
    This is a very good explanation of the quota system and the potential effect on women’s participation. It is very unfortunate that the quota was lowered. I share your hope that women will increase their participation through both voting and running for election.

  3. Thank you so much for this very interesting article, Zakia. What an important time for women not to lose hope but to keep working and participating. From what I know of Afghan women, they will become only stronger and stronger, and someday will be fairly represented in government because of the brave first steps of these first women elected officials.
    With respect, Jeannie

  4. Nancy Antle says:

    Thank you for this informative article. I hope that women’s participation in the election will be widespread enough to raise the quota and that they will continue to participate and be involved afterwards. I know it must be discouraging but not giving up hope is key and strong, vocal women like you are important to keeping people working towards change. All good wishes for the upcoming election day. Nancy

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