Afghan Youth Debates: Women, Politics and Power

Women have gained some ground in Afghan politics but still do not wield any real influence in government, a female academic in the western city of Herat says.

Addressing an IWPR debate attended by local students on December 5, Soheila Urfani, a lecturer in journalism and communications at Herat University, described an entrenched culture of discrimination which left female politicians on a far from equal footing with their male colleagues.

“Afghan women have a political presence rather than real political participation,” she said. "Women cannot claim to enjoy political participation in Afghanistan just by occupying some seats [in government]," Urfani said.

There are no female candidates for next April’s presidential election, but a number are standing in the provincial elections taking place at the same time.

Khalida Khorsand, a civil society activist in Herat, agreed that female involvement in national and local politics would continue to be largely symbolic unless female candidates continued to challenge traditional conventions and push for change.

Khorsand said women needed to become more politically aware and should not shy away from intervening in debates and making their opinions heard. At the same time, she said women who aspired to enter parliament should make sure they had a thorough understanding of the workings of government as any perceived lack of expertise would alienate female voters.

Uzra Aziz is a journalism student at Herat University. 

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.