As Afghanistan prepares to go to the polls campaign workers, diplomats and observers fear poor security, rampant fraud and not enough female staff will keep women away from casting their ballot in Thursdays poll.
And in many cases those that do will be voting for the candidate chosen by their husbands. Despite the difficulties, including threats and intimidation, 350 women are registered for provincial council seats guaranteeing them a role in political life, but in deeply conservative areas women are expected to cover up and stay at home. It seems unlikely but two women are standing for president as they try to unseat Hamid Karzai. One of them is Shahla Ata: “As a woman candidate I told you, I am challenging the men, 40 men. They have money, I don’t have money. I am challenging because all the people are behind me. All the poor people support me. The women, the children, young generation” , For a woman to gain any political power in such circumstances courage and effort are required, even before the votes are counted women’s groups are hard at work trying get women to register for the right to vote. Wojama Jan works for women’s rights in the country: “Firstly, we recommend that women come and vote despite all the problems they are facing and the lack of security. They need to vote for someone who can rescue them from all these problems, our problems are the same we had eight years ago” Just last week the US based Human Rights Watch attacked Karzai for ratifying a law which restricts rights for Shi’ite women, which make up 15 percent of the population. The Shi’ite Personal Status Law requires women to satisfy their husbands sexual needs. It is a law that many see as a charter which allows men to commit marital rape. The international community rounded on Karzai and he claimed the attacks were “inappropriate” and based on “misinterpretation.” The edict harks back to the days of the Taliban say rights groups. Shinkai Zahine Karokhail is a member of the Afghan assembly. “Well, actually women in this country are not considered as a human. If, really, they considered them as a human, they definitely they would deserve human rights.” As for Karzai many believe he will win the election but he will fail to get the necessary mandate to avoid a second round. To get the numbers the Afghan president would be wise to tap into the potentially huge female vote.