Afghanistan: Disappointing Number of Women Registered to Vote

With just half a million Afghans registered since early December 2003, the process has a long way to go to enfranchise the estimated 10.5 million potential voters eligible to participate in elections this summer.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), several challenges face the electoral registration in this traditional country devoid of infrastructure, ravaged by poverty and plagued by elements of the former Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda.
The US$78 million election initiative is managed by an 11-member panel, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), formed after a presidential decree in 2003 and is composed of six Afghans including two women, and five international experts from the UN. Growing insecurity in the country mostly in the south and east, poses one of the most serious challenges to a successful election. A series of attacks on UN and aid workers has meant that humanitarian and development work has been suspended across much of the south. This means voter registration in the region is lagging behind schedule.

Around 500 people, including many militants, have been killed in the last six months, the bloodiest period since the Taliban was deposed by US-led forces in late 2001. The huge national registration campaign is labour intensive, and requires thousands of local and at least 100 international UN employees to make the programme work. At the moment, some 50 teams composed of around 400 UN local employees are operating in the field.

Observers are warning that the process will be much more dangerous in rural areas, where Kabul's authority remains very weak and regional warlords and armed opposition groups continue to hold sway. The United Nations has appealed urgently for more international peacekeeping troops to provide security for national elections.

Women in rural areas are not allowed to go out for a vaccination or health check, so how they can go long distances to register to vote?" Wolanga, a teacher at a girls’ school in Kabul said. So far, of around half a million Afghans who have registered to vote, only around 100,000, or 22%, are female. The UN has expressed concern at the low number of women registering.

In an effort to encourage women's participation, UNAMA's electoral component will deploy mobile registration teams in conservative or inaccessible areas. But Afghan women are fighting for their right to vote. In mid January, in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, 500 women marched through the centre of the city in a show of support for voter registration.

Nafeesa Ghyasi, a well-known local personality who hosts a television programme for women, called for women to join her on the march and register at a local school. The women were registered and then received new civic education posters that encourage women’s participation.

Source: Irin Asia, 29.1.04.