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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid