Oread Daily | 06.10.2004 21:32 | Analysis
Widespread intimidation of women and general insecurity in Afghanistan threaten women’s right to vote freely in the October 9 presidential elections, stand for political office and fully participate in public life. Human Rights Watch in a report just released says threats on women by warlords and the Taliban are undermining their participation in Afghanistan's upcoming elections. A women’s rights activist threatened in a northern province told Human Rights Watch: “They called me on my mobile, saying, ‘You are doing things you should not. We will kill you as an example to other women.”
The US-based Human Rights Watch says that very few women have registered to vote on Saturday in areas where the Taliban are active. The report says even campaign workers have received death threats for raising women's issues. The report highlights instances where campaign workers have been harassed and received death threats for raising women's rights issues, such as making it easier for them to divorce.
“Many Afghan women risk their safety if they participate in public life,” said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “The Bush administration is particularly proud of the progress women have made. But Afghan women themselves say their hopes for even basic rights have gone unfulfilled.”
The report describes how women are targeted for challenging women’s traditional roles in society. It says women journalists, activists and government officials have reported death threats, harassment and attacks for speaking out about sensitive women’s rights issues such as divorce. Through intimidation and armed attacks, local warlord factions, the Taliban and other insurgent forces have forced the closure of women’s development projects, which provide desperately needed education, health, rights awareness and job training to women and girls. “Since the ousting of the Taliban, women’s lives in Afghanistan have undoubtedly improved,” said Jefferson. “But now it’s the warlords who are actively trying to keep women from exercising their rights.”
Shukria Barekzai, head of the Asia Women Service Association, said that while all of the candidates in the upcoming election realize that women constitute an important portion of the electorate, none have gone far enough in expanding a role for women. "Unfortunately they haven’t been able to make a platform which includes offers for women to be involved in political and social affairs,” she said.
Nasrine Abou-bakre Groos, head of social sciences at Kabul's National Centre for Policy Research said healthcare issues, such as the high number of women who die during childbirth and the lack of medical facilities for their children, are the most important issues for most women. She also said that issues such as the high rate of illiteracy among women and their lack of access to the courts and the judicial system need to be included as part of the candidates’ policies. She said that, so far, the current government has done little to aid women in rural areas and has catered to literate women who are likely to live in urban areas.
And while women are the most threatened, they are not the only threatened. Warlords continue to this day to threaten voters, candidates and political organizers. "The warlords are still calling the shots," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Many voters in rural areas say the militias have already told them how to vote, and that they're afraid of disobeying them. Activists and political organizers who oppose the warlords fear for their lives." Adams says, “The reality is that most Afghans involved in politics on the ground are primarily afraid of warlords and their factions, much more than they're afraid of the Taliban.”
In addition, because security remains a problem through most of the country, only a handful of properly trained and independent monitors will be deployed and most polling sites will not be adequately monitored. "Many abuses in the crucial pre-election period and on election day won't even be discovered-because there won't be anyone out there to report on them," said Adams. "How can such an important election have such an anemic observation effort?"
In fact, in a news conference held in Kabul on 4 October, Robert Barry, head of The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Election Support Team, said it was difficult for a country such as Afghanistan to hold free and fair elections in accordance with international standards. Therefore, the OSCE team will not supervise the 9 October presidential election according to international standards, Barry said, and the OSCE will not issue a statement about the fairness of the poll. Since the European Union (EU) is one of the largest funders of the Afghan election, "analysts say it would be in an awkward position if a body [OSCE] with many EU members had to declare the election process flawed." Consequently, the reason for their decision to make no statement about the process becomes clear.
And many Afghans are more than cynical about the election. "I registered. I have a ballot but I won’t vote for anyone. Not just me, but my entire family has decided to stay home," Dr. Ebadullah Ebadi, a surgeon by training who is not currently practicing but instead works for a foreign company. "We are not voting because we see some players influencing the outcome." Other Kabul resident’s share Ebadi’s perception that Karzai’s victory is being guaranteed by the overt support of the United States and European Union. The strong US backing for Karzai’s candidacy could end up doing more to sour Afghans on democracy, than to promote democratic values, many contend. "Look at him now," said one women, who declined to give her name, referring to Karzai. "He campaigns between fully armed American soldiers and bodyguards. The president should be sufficiently popular that he doesn’t need to rely on foreign support."
Abdosalam Zafari, a professor at Kabul University, believes that officials may tamper with the vote in order to make Karzai appear more popular than is actually the case. "I am sure he [Karzai] will win," Zafari said. "One hundred years of Afghan history shows that those with foreign support take power, and in this case, Karzai has [international community] support." Sources: EurasiaNet, Sabawoon, Human Rights Watch, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Afghan News Network, BBC, Alert Net, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan
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