Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Youth Debates: Men Preventing Women From Voting is "Biggest Challenge"

Students living in the Ghoryan district of Herat province in western Afghanistan have questioned local officials on a wide range of election-related issues as the country gears up to elect a successor to President Hamed Karzai.

Undergraduates attending the IWPR-backed debate on January 23 were keen to learn more about women's rights, the role young people can play in the elections, and the role of the media.

Karimi, a participant, asked the panel why women should bother taking part in the April 5 elections and what obstacles they might face if they tried.

“Women have the same right as men to vote in the elections," said Mahjabin Hanafi, chair of the women's affairs council for Ghoryan district. "They should support whichever candidates they want, as their votes could change the destiny of Afghanistan."

Hanafi went on to discuss why many women in Ghoryan might not participate in the election.

“Poor security, low literacy rates, and lack of awareness about rights are all factors which may limit the number of women taking part," she said. "But traditional barriers, where women are prevented from voting by men, represent the biggest challenge."

Shakila Haqdust, a civil activist, agreed that this was the case, adding, “If men are not educated about women’s rights through Islamic teachings, then women will continue to face this problem."

Hamed Sirat Samadi, the deputy chancellor of Kabul Polytechnic, asked the panel what attributes female voters should look for in a prospective president.

Hanafi answered that Karzai's successor should be an "honest" man who strongly believed in helping ordinary Afghans. "He should pay particular attention to the rights of women,” she added.

Finally, students attending the discussion questioned panellists about the role of the media.

Mohammad Sharif Saljuqi, a spokesman for Ghoryan's education department, described the press as a "bridge" between the government and the public. He stressed that media networks had a very important role to play in the build-up to the vote.

Uzra Aziz is a student at Herat 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.