elderly voter in herat

As the days count down to Election Day in Afghanistan, candidates are making slick speeches and warm promises to our poor nation. They talk about infrastructure development and providing security that was not provided in the last fourteen years. In fact, the candidates and campaign groups talk about almost every issue and all sorts of changes that might come from a newly elected government, but none of them want to address the biggest problem of all—the violation of women’s human rights.

Women voters are supposed to be equal to men, but what happens at the polls is they end up electing the dominant male who will then continue to violate their rights. Women vote for a person who is believed to bring security in the country, not for the person who would give them security from violence within their own homes and culture.

It would be interesting to find out how many Afghan women have accurate knowledge about the election process. Obviously, not many. Most women are not literate and even if they can read, they are not aware of political affairs. Only some educated women know what is going on; few women vote according to their own will. The head of the family tells them for whom to vote, and families tend to vote for a candidate from their own ethnic group.

In the last elections in August 2009, the wife of one of our neighbors, Sanabar, came to our house right after she voted. She was excited and she explained how her hands were shaking when she took the ballot under her burqa and she could hardly find the picture of the candidate that was shown to her at home by her husband. She then put the tick mark. This is the usual way illiterate women vote.

Afghan women occupy a blank space in the society. They are being misused by a male-dominated culture and tradition. Male candidates don’t attempt to challenge any wrong practices against women in the country, because it will not be in their interest.

Yet women make up half of the population and represent a significant voting population. If women voted independently—and were they to choose the candidate who promised to improve women’s rights and develop the country—everything could change. They could free themselves.

By Shafiqa

The author is currently studying abroad. AFP photo.