Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Yesterday (Tuesday), the 1st of April 2014, was the last day for Afghans to register to vote for the Friday 5th April presidential and provincial elections. Millions of Afghans have stood in long lines and defied the threat of attacks from militants to obtain their voter cards. A significant number of those Afghans who rushed to register to vote in this year’s elections have been women.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, has reported that around 3.8 million new voters have been registered for the 5th April elections. More than one-third of these new voters are women. That's a significant number in a deeply conservative country like Afghanistan, where women continue to face considerable obstacles in exercising their basic rights.

Many Afghan women are understandably concerned about the prospect of losing some of the real and hard-won gains that have been secured over the last 10 years. Something that may well occur once the majority of foreign combat troops leave at the end of this year. Already, a noticeable drawback has been noted when it comes to women's rights even before the foreign troops leave. Female lawmakers have been unsuccessful in their attempts to outlaw violence against women.

Conservative male lawmakers have looked to reintroduce stoning as the punishment for adultery, not to mention a law that prevents victims of violence and abuse from testifying against husbands and other relatives. At the same time, the number of seats reserved for women in provincial councils has been reduced, prompting criticism from local and international rights groups.

That said, for this set of elections, for the moment at least is different, a number of the presidential candidates have highlighted the importance of female voters in this election, with three of them choosing women as their second vice-presidential running mates. One of most high-profile woman among the presidential tickets is Habiba Sarabi, the second vice-presidential running mate for Zalmai Rasul, a former foreign minister who is one of the favourites to become the country's next president.

If the Rasul Presidential tickect wins the poll, then Sarabi would become Afghanistan's first female vice presidents. Sarabi, a 57-year-old pharmacist, has already made history by becoming Afghanistan’s first female provincial governor back in 2005. In a bid to encourage women to vote, Sarabi has attended many of Rasul's election rallies, telling women to seize their opportunity to determine their country's future direction.

At the same time, Rula, the wife of candidate Ashraf Ghani, has campaigned beside her husband. Rula, a Lebanese Christian, she has attended numerous meetings and rallies, previously an extremely rare occurrences in a country where the current first lady almost never appears in public. When compared to previous elections, thousands of Afghan women and girls have attended election rallies, participated in candidates' conventions, or worked as campaigners in# the 2014 vote.

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