Afghan Youth Debates: Female Education, Security and Elections
Speakers at an IWPR debate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif talked about poor access to education and societal violence as obstacles to greater female participation in the political process.
Maria Rahin, a senior lecturer at Balkh University, told an audience of over 90 female students that access to schooling and a continued push for better rights for women were essential to developing a more inclusive society.
Rahin argued that ongoing work to improve women’s political awareness had already shown results, but she urged campaigners to continue their efforts and make use of Afghanistan's extensive media networks to drive home their message.
"Women must launch campaigns in the media, and in order to advertise, we will need to spend money," she said. "To an extent, we need to impose our beliefs."
Although women's rights in Afghanistan have improved dramatically since the ousting of the Taleban government in 2001, female politicians and activists have increasingly become targets of threats, intimidation and attacks. Last year, a number of female officials were kidnapped, and many more incidents are thought to go unreported.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says that figures for March to September 2013 showed a 25 per cent increase in cases of violence against women.
"Killing women in Afghanistan is easy," said Suraya Pakzad, who runs women's shelters in several provinces. "There's no punishment."
Abdul Baset Sharifi, a local journalist and a panellist at the debate, told the audience it was clear that enormous cultural challenges still lay ahead before Afghan women could claim to be treated on an equal footing.
He said that people in some provinces of northeast Afghanistan continued to view sending girls to school as a matter of shame for their families.
"The main reason behind the poor visibility of women in provinces like Baghlan, Kunduz and Badakhshan is lack of education and awareness," he said.
Mohammad Arif Anwari is a student of journalism at Balkh University and an IWPR trainee.
This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.