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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid