Afghanistan: Afghan women need security safeguards before election, warns UK charity

WOMANKIND Worldwide is calling for increased security and greater election monitoring to encourage the 4 million Afghan women who have registered, to cast their votes in the presidential elections.
An historic opportunity, to involve Afghan women in the country's new democracy, will be lost if the international community allows them to be intimidated away from the polls on October 9th.
Women make up 42% of those with polling cards, but the UK-based women's rights and development agency says that female voters are likely to stay away from the polls if their security isn't safeguarded.

Security has significantly deteriorated in the capital, Kabul, and the provinces over the past few months. Taliban and other militants have pledged to disrupt the Presidential elections as part of a concentrated campaign to destabilise the country's reconstruction. 29 aid workers have been killed this year and, since voting registration began, election-related attacks have killed 12 people and injured 30. WOMANKIND's 3 partner organisations in Afghanistan say women involved in aid and election work are being intimidated by "night letters" - anonymous notes posted after dark night threatening retribution for political involvement. And despite a national campaign to encourage female registration and voting, just 20% of people registered in the five southern provinces are women.

Anne-Kristin Treiber, WOMANKIND's Afghanistan programme manager says, "Women's rights have been made the core, if not the legitimate cause, for justifying the international community's intervention in Afghanistan. The extension of NATO's mandate beyond Kabul and the deployment of 3000 extra troops in the north won't guarantee basic security. Some Afghan women will still be risking their lives to vote. More civilian police and security need to be sent to the provinces to ensure that voting can go ahead without the manipulation and interference of warlords. And special attention should be paid to ensuring that women have safe access to polling stations outside the capital."

Women in Afghanistan are continuing to suffer terrible human rights abuses under provincial warlords, with rape and sexual assault all too common. WOMANKIND is calling on NATO member states to fulfil their obligations to protect women from Gender Based Violence in post-conflict situations, such as rape, sexual assault, trafficking, forced marriage and honour killings as set out in Security Council Resolution 1325.

Free and fair elections will be hampered if the training of 125-thousand election workers to run polling stations in the 35 provinces is not urgently completed. And WOMANKIND warns that the number of expected international monitors - currently less than 150 - is far below what is needed to prevent fraud and intimidation at polling stations.

1) WOMANKIND Worldwide currently works with three Afghan women's organisations - the Afghan Women's Network, the Afghan Women's Resource Centre and the AWEC - in the area of human rights education around the constitution and the election, support for women leaders, and practical assistance to women with voter registration. We also work through the support of community based resource centres, which provide psycho-social support for women suffering from violence, as well as vocational skills training and literacy training. WK's partners are further involved in capacity building of local NGOs, as well as government ministries and policy makers. The programme currently operates in Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazar-I-Sharif and Peshawar.

2) The figures: Afghanistan is registered as the 4th poorest country in the world, with a population of 24.5 million. 70% of the population is undernourished, only 23% of the population has access to safe water and 80% of women are illiterate. 68% of girls between 7-13 years are not enrolled in school. The maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan is the second highest in the world, with an estimated 15,000 women dying each year from pregnancy-related causes. 54% of girls under the age of 18 are married. Often, families marry young girls at an earlier age in order to use the bride price to assist in the family's survival.