Riding Riding on the wake of Iran's tumultuous elections earlier this summer, Afghanistan also held presidential elections this year. While the elections, and subsequent protests, in Iran sparked discussion about women's rising influence, Afghanistan's elections last Thursday only continued to show how far women have to come in this conservative society.
While women are techincally granted some equality under the new Constitution, cultural pressure and Taliban intimidation kept women's participation down this year. Of the thirty candidates vying for the presidency, only two of them were female and they were continuously threatened and denied media coverage. (That torn poster in the photo above is of one of the candidates, Shahlah Atta.) The other candidates virtually ignored any issue of women's rights, and were more likely to appeal to the Taliban than their female voters.
When all was said and done, the race was narrowed down to two candidates: the incumbent, Karzai, and Abdullah, who was his foreign minister. Karzai has a proven record of corruption and support of continued oppression of women. This is the man, after all, who passed the notorious "marital rape law" in 2004, which granted husbands the right to sollicit sex from their wife at least every fourth night, to which the wife must oblige unless she is ill. He also quietly passed a Shiite law right before the elections which allows a husband to starve his wife is she refuses sex. The law, which only applies to the Shiite minority (about 20 percent of the population), sparked protests, which were violently put down. Yet Abdullah isn't much better, as he was a warlord during the civil wars and therefore also has a history of condoning rape and violence.
Voter turnout was estimated at 40-50%, down from 70% during the 2004 elections. But the voting process was rife with fraud and corruption. It's too early to accurately judge the polls' legitmacy, but there were numerous accounts of ballot stuffing and burning of votes. Threats of violence and intimdation also greatly affected who people voted for and how many people voted. Insurgent attacks were rampant throughout the country. There were hundreds of rocket attacks, ballot burning, and threats made on election workers and voters. Workers were shot and those with ink on their fingers (a sign of their vote) were told they'd have their fingers cut off (there were at least two witnessed reports of this actually happening). Around twenty people were killed.
Of course, women suffered a disproportionate amount of the intimdation. In a country where women need their husband's permission to leave the home and are largely disapproved of having a public life, the thought of women affecting the outcome of an election was too much. The polling centers were segregated by sex, so they were easily targeted. An estimated 650 polling places for women never even opened. Much of this intimdation was in the South, where the Taliban holds the most influence. In many regions, almost no women voted.
We will have to wait and see for the outcome of the election, but unfortunately it looks like neither possibility will have a positive impact on women. This is a country that is rated as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, and these elections haven't shown any sign of this changing anytime soon. However, the Obama administration has specifically targeted women's rights in Afghanistan as an issue of international concern, so there may be a glimmer of hope. -Celeste