Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Record number of Afghan women are standing for elections

A record number of Afghan women are standing for election tomorrow despite intimidation from the Taliban and constraints on their ability to campaign.

Two women are running for president and another 342 have put themselves forward for places on provincial councils, 40 more than in the last elections.

One of those standing in Helmand Province - probably the area where the Taliban insurgency is at its strongest - said she was not afraid of the militants.

Karima, who uses only one name, said: "I do not feel any fear for myself because we know they are the enemy of Afghanistan, they are intimidating the people.

"We do not care about their intimidation. We are just free, independent candidates, we would like to serve the country.

"We would like to serve the people and to get rid of this intimidation."

Sitting alongside other female candidates in the provincial council offices in Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, she spoke quietly but firmly of her reasons for standing.

"I would like to defend the rights of the people, both men and women," Karima said through an interpreter.

"I am standing for this election because the people have asked me to and they can see ability in me.

"I am a well-educated person so I would like to use my education in a positive way for the people."

Just 39% of the 4.6 million new voters registered in 2008/09 are women, and many of these may be unable to use their vote tomorrow anyway because of restrictions on what they can do.

But none of this daunts Razia Baloch, a sitting Helmand provincial councillor who is seeking re-election.

She explained the importance of provincial councils by describing them as a "bridge between the nation and the government".

"The provincial councillors have been doing a very good job for the people," she said.

"The last provincial council was a trial period - the people did not understand what the provincial councillors were going to do for them.

"Now they understand that, and they will vote for a better future.

Ms Baloch predicted that Afghan members of the Taliban would not cause any trouble in tomorrow's elections, but she warned that foreign militants could.

"The Taliban are trying to derail the elections," she said.

"The people are very scared of the Taliban's threats because the security did not get better, it got worse."

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