News / Asia

Will New Afghan Government Roll Back Women's Rights?

Independent Election Commission (IEC) employee counts the ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, June 14, 2014.
Independent Election Commission (IEC) employee counts the ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, June 14, 2014.
Spozhmai Maiwandi
As Afghan women await the results of the second round of presidential elections which took place over the weekend, they are watching to see that the rights they have won and the advances they have made in the last decade are not compromised.

In the political landscape of Afghanistan today—and in stark contrast to its strongly conservative culture—women vote. They are members of Parliament. They serve in the Cabinet.  They hold positions in provincial councils.

Although the 2006 Afghan Constitution guaranteed women certain rights—including the right to vote, to be educated, and to hold public office—the women of Afghanistan have suffered some setbacks in the last seven years.

The administration of President Hamid Karzai has paved the way for millions of girls to go to school and for women to work and has enshrined equal rights for the citizens.

But there has been criticism that Karzai has been neither staunch nor consistent in supporting women’s rights and that hard-fought gains may be traded away as the government compromises with the Taliban and other Islamic conservative groups.

Rolling back progress

Afghanistan’s parliament and judiciary has repeatedly tried to erode legal protections for Afghan women.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, laws have been proposed to reinstate stoning as punishment for adultery and to abolish the seats set-aside for women on provincial councils.

And there have been ongoing attempts to repeal the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), which was passed in 2010.

Earlier this year, a controversial article in the draft criminal procedure code exempted relatives from testifying on behalf of women who were victims of domestic violence. President Karzai signed the code into law but appended an amendment that made testifying voluntary for members of the victim’s family.

Women’s rights advocates criticized the move, citing the increased difficulty in successfully prosecuting domestic violence cases without being able to compel witnesses to testify.  In March, Karzai publicly endorsed an edict from Afghanistan’s highest Islamic authority, the Ulema Council, that said women were worth less than men.

Amid the backdrop of steady attempts to roll back the gains in women’s rights, the first round of presidential elections on April 5 boasted the largest voter turnout of the last three elections.  More than 7 million of Afghanistan’s 12 million registered voters cast ballots - 2.5 million more voters than in 2009.

The large turnout was attributed partly to the Independent Election Commission (IEC)’s campaign to register new voters. One-third of the nearly 3.6 million new voters registered in the last year and a half are women. And  it is estimated that 35 percent of the country’s 12 million registered voters are women, most of them young women.

Not only did women show up in record numbers to vote, there were also a record number of women candidates on the ballot. The IEC reports nearly 300 women ran for provincial posts in 2014. That means 12 percent of the candidates were women.

Sarobi candidacy

And creating what was perhaps the greatest sensation of the campaign trail was Habiba Sarobi, the former governor of Bamiyan province. She ran as the vice-presidential nominee of Zalmay Rassoul, who placed third in the first round of presidential elections.

This was the first time in the history of the country that a woman ran on a viable national ticket.  Massouda Jalal ran for president against Karzai in 2004, but it was seen mostly as a symbolic move.

Despite the advances, women still face serious challenges.

Throughout the country, concerns about security, health, and illiteracy are foremost in women’s minds. Lacking running water, electricity, and basic health care, the majority of Afghan women are struggling from day to day. Infant mortality is high and violence against women is common.

According to Qudsia Niazi, the director of the office of the Special Attorney, the biggest achievement of Afghan women, other than getting the right of education and work, has been the reporting and reduction of the violence against women.

In an interview with the VOA in May, Niazi said, “Just in the capital city of Kabul, more than 3,500 cases of violence against women have been solved in the past four years, and the perpetrators have been convicted, sentenced with imprisonment and even execution.”

US pledges support

Many Afghan women are worried about the impact that the decrease of international aid, the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2016, and any possible negotiated peace with the Taliban will have on their lives.

Catherine Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, told VOA’s Afghan Service that the U.S. will support women’s rights in Afghanistan after the troops leave.

Russell said the Afghanistan Promote program by the U.S. Agency for International Development is committing more than  “ $200 million over the next five years to support women in the country who are politically and economically engaged, and we see that as a way to continue to support the women who’ve made a tremendous progress there.”

Russell added that the concerns of Afghan women are the same as those of women in the rest of world: economic, social, and political empowerment of women and girls.

The flip side of aid programs is local organization and participation in the political process.

The high turnout of women voters in the first round of presidential elections signals that Afghan women are beginning to recognize the power of becoming politically active. Afghan women firmly believe that the clock on those achievements cannot and should not be turned back.

Candidates vow to protect women's rights

Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the two candidates who vied for the presidency in the second round of elections, vowed to protect women’s rights. In their campaign speeches, Both men pledged to support women’s causes and to give women a greater role in government.

Abdullah considers women’s rights as a make or break issue in the reconciliation talks with the opposition.

Speaking on June 5 to representatives of women’s groups that supported his campaign, he thanked them for their role during the current elections and stressed “that in order for Afghan women to get the position that they deserve, it is important to first get them educated.”

He said he would enforce laws that protect the rights of women and  emphasized the “role of religious leaders in removing the negative concepts and thoughts that exist in the society regarding women.” 

Ghani also emphasized the importance of educating women, saying that “one educated woman in Afghan society educates a whole family.” He has also repeatedly stressed that all Afghans are equal regardless of gender, creed, color, and ethnicity, as clearly stated in the Constitution.

Ghani added that he will “pay more attention to bringing positive changes in the lives of Afghan women” if he is elected as the next president."

During an event in March to mark International Women’s Day, Ghani created quite a stir by appearing onstage with his wife, who addressed the audience of women at the rally.

This has been seen as a direct response to Karzai, who has been persistently criticized by women’s rights advocates for keeping First Lady Zeenat Karzai, a gynecologist by training, out of the public eye during the 13 years of his administration.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: eusebio manuel vestias from: Portugal
June 17, 2014 3:55 PM
liberty the women of human right Afghanistan

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs