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Afghan Youth Debates: Tradition as Obstacle to Women Voting

By Mohammad Khan Raihan

Women in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province face significant barriers to voting in next April's elections, female students warned at a recent debate.

In the latest of a series of IWPR-backed discussions taking place across the country, female students repeatedly raised concerns about traditions that were likely to prevent women even leaving their homes to vote.

Afghanistan will go to the polls next year to elect both a successor to the current president, Hamed Karzai, as well as to decide on new provincial leaders. Many fear a repeat of the problems seen in the last presidential election held in 2009, which was marred by a low turnout and widespread corruption.

Speaking during the November 28 debate at Paktia University in Gardez, the province’s main town, medical student Raihana urged the government to do more to address the obstacles facing by women anxious to take part in the elections.

Cultural tradition throughout much of southern and eastern Afghanistan dictates that women must obtain their husbands’ permission to leave the marital home. It is feared that many will be forbidden to collect their voter registration cards, let alone actually cast their ballots.

Mohammad Yousuf Molatar, a provincial officer for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), agreed that women were unlikely to have the same opportunities to vote as their male counterparts.

But he insisted the AIHRC was taking the issue seriously and was actively encouraging men to allow women to take part.

“It is my task, your task, the village heads’ task, and the task of these debates to raise public awareness,” Molater said.

The campus debate, attended by around 100 male and female undergraduates, also heard from Nasrin Oriakhil, head of the provincial department of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Oriakhil said serious challenges for female voters existed in a number of districts, although she predicted that most women in the town of Gardez would be able to go and collect their registration cards and to vote on election day itself.

AIEC provincial spokesman Sher Alam Faizi noted that recent figures showed that women currently accounted for 44 per cent of voters who had received their registration cards across the province. 

Mohammad Khan Raihan is a student at Paktia 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.


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