The emerging activism of Afghan women will be put to the test in the aftermath of the April election – Published on AlJazeera, by Helena Malikyar, Feb 28, 2014.
“Detour is not an option!” reads the Afghan Women’s Charter, which was presented to the media last week in Kabul in the presence of some of Afghanistan’s leading women of the post-Taliban decade. The Charter enumerates Afghan women’s demands of the 11 presidential candidates competing in the April vote, the third presidential election since the US-led military intervention that ousted the Taliban in 2001.
This charter, unlike most documents of this nature, was initiated by a small group of Afghan women, with no assistance from outsiders. The fact that the authors refused to seek international assistance or funding makes the effort a symbol of breaking the vicious cycle of aid dependency. It is a message that women have consciously decided to convey at a time when international engagement is about to wind down.
The women of Afghanistan have come a long way in the past 12 years. The post-Talban Afghan Constitution assures them equal rights and freedoms, access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities, political and social activities. Affirmative action has allowed them to occupy about 27 percent of the seats in the country’s Parliament and there are three women cabinet ministers. The governor of Bamyan province, head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commision and president of the country’s Red Crescent Society have all been prominent women.
At grassroot levels, from the nearly 8 million Afghan children that attend schools, 2.4 million are girls. And according to government figures, the number of women pursuing higher education rose by 30.4 percent in 2011-2012.
In this year’s presidential tickets, however, women figures are not as conspicuous as in the past two elections. This seems to be compensated by the increased activities of women activists such as the Afghan Women’s Network AWN, an umbrella organisation that boasts membership of over 100 women’s institutions and 5,000 individuals, Equality for Peace and Democracy and dozens of other organisations that are conducting awareness and registration drives, human rights training sessions, and town hall meetings with candidates, etc.
The Afghan Women’s Charter has now begun its journey in the media and through Afghanistan’s provinces, with volunteer provincial organisations and individual activists promoting it and gathering consensus on the demands of the document.
Three women have emerged in the presidential tickets this year. Dr Zalmai Rassoul, mostly regarded as President Hamid Karzai’s pick as his successor, has chosen Habiba Sarabi, former governor of Bamyan province, as his second vice presidential candidate. A hematologist by profession, she has a dignified personality and comes from an ethnic Hazara family whose prominence goes back to pre-war Afghanistan.
Being the first woman governor in the administrative history of Afghanistan, Sarabi is one of the very few high officials of the Karzai government whose name was not attached to corruption accusations all through her eight-year tenure. In some circles of women activists, though, Sarabi is criticised for acquiescing to the status quo rather than risking activism for change.
Safiya Siddiqi is running as second vice president on Hedayat Amin Arsala’s ticket. Though this team is not seen as likely to win, Siddiqi has emerged as an outspoken member of the Arsala presidency campaign. The dynamic Siddiqi won a seat in the Parliament in 2005 with the third highest vote count during that parliamentary election. Having returned from her Canadian exile, she is well-rooted in Eastern Afghanistan, partly due to her family’s influence among Pashtun tribes of that region and recently, due to her tireless grassroots work.
Daoud Sultanzoy, another presidential candidate in this year’s vote, has picked Kazimia Mohaqiq as his vice presidential candidate. Mohaqiq has a Masters degree from Iran and has been teaching political science and law at one of Kabul’s private universities.
Lack of political will: … //
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(Helena Malikyar is an Afghan political analyst and historian).
Interview with Tatiana Isaeva, on World Socialist Web Site WSWS, Feb 24, 2014.