The paper examines the implementation of the institutional mechanisms related to women’s political participation during the year 2001 to 2014. The year 2001 is important because the international community came together in December 2001 in Bonn Germany to decide the roadmap of Afghanistan’s future. The most recent Presidential election of Afghanistan took place in 2014 so that is why these two periods are important in this paper. In the first part of the paper, I am going to highlight the mechanisms which were put in place during the years 2001-2004. The second section is based on women participation in the different electoral process as voters and as candidates. The third section highlights the importance of national machinery and national policies which put in place for increasing women political participation. The final section examines the obstacles which restrict women political participation.
Bonn Conference’s Immediate Outcomes (2001-2004)
In 2001 at Bonn Germany, it was decided that Afghanistan would have an interim authority for a period of six months and a transitional authority for the period of two years. The purpose of the interim government was to fill the power vacuum in the country. The transitional administration was followed by an Emergency Loya Jirga. According to Human Rights Watch (2005:8) women, participation in Emergency Loya Jirga in June 2002 was just 12 percent. They were prevented from having substantive inputs in the emergency Loya Jirga. There are reports that their microphone was cut off after few minutes of speaking where a powerful mujahidin leaders were given half hour to speak (Human Right Watch, 2005:8). On July 16, 2003, the constitution Loya Jirga took place there were 20% women out of 500 delegates (US-Afghan Women Council, 2003:1). The presence of 20% of women in constitution Loya Jirga compare to the emergency Loya Jirga was a good achievement. Thus, in spite of institutional mechanisms prejudice and discrimination against Afghan women remained. The presence of warlords and social and traditional norms restricted women participation in the different political process.
Women for Afghan Women (WAW), a nongovernmental organization, organized 35 women from all over Afghanistan to draft a Women’s Bill of Rights. Under tight security, the women drafted the Bill, which outlined twenty principle rights. These rights included “mandatory education for women through secondary school, up-to-date health services for women, and the prevention and criminalization of ‘bad blood price’ (the use of women as compensation for crimes by one family against another ” (Grenfell, 2004:2). Women for Afghan Women then provided a copy of the Bill of Rights to President Karzai and the Constitutional Commission. Both the President and the Commission assured the women, that all the demands would be included in the draft constitution. Unfortunately, when the first draft of the Constitution was released a few weeks later, many of WAW’s demands were left out (Grenfell, 2004:2).
The Afghanistan 2004 constitution is very progressive in terms of women’s rights and gender equality. Article 22 of Afghanistan Constitution (2004) described that “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.”(Afghan Constitution, 2004:27). Women‘s equality with men is ensured in Afghanistan’s constitution, but, it is difficult to put this into practice. Another article of the Afghan constitution, Islam is described as the state religion. Article three of Afghan Constitution (2004) makes clear that: “No law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan” (Afghan constitution, 2004:2). Such provision is a tool in the hands of radicals and extremist groups to interpret it in a way that restricts women’s public life in the name of religion. The Afghan Independent Human Right Commission is another important outcome of this process. Presence of three women in Transitional Authority did not need to be mentioned too which were two women in the Interim Authority.
Women’s political participation can be as a voter; and second, women’s participation in three different bodies of government (Executive, Legislation, and Judiciary), the peace process and political parties, civil societies and so on.
There were three presidential elections and the provincial election during years 2004, 2009 and 2014 and there were two parliamentary elections during years 2005 and 2010. The first presidential election in post-Taliban Afghanistan took place in 2004. In this election, there was only one woman Masuda Jalal who was running for the presidential post (Ponticelli, 2009). According to International Republican Institute (2009), there was an increase in women’s political participation in 2009 Presidential election and Provincial Council election. Two out of 41 presidential candidates were women and there was an increase from 242 to 328 women candidates in provincial council (IRI, 2009:19-21). There is a decrease in numbers of women candidates in the provincial election of 2014. There was only one female presidential candidate in the 2014 election she also disqualified due to unknown reasons (Athayi, 2014). The parliamentary election took place in 2010; there was an increase of 24 percent women candidates compared to 2005 parliamentary elections (Worden and Sudhakar, 2010:1).
When it came to women in positions of power, the threat and restriction against them became more serious. Cultural constraints, security threats, and threats by warlords were the shared concerns for women candidates and women in the position of power. Gender stereotypes, psychological and traditional barriers, and inequalities in education, training, and resources were the main obstacles to women’s active participation (GSD 2009:1). The only female candidate Massoda Jalal stood against 17 male in the 2004 presidential election. She was prevented many times from speaking and campaigning at various locations while permission was given to other candidates (Human Watch Report 2005:10).Malalai Joya, the Farah province representative was suspended from parliament for criticizing the warlords and their presence in a different high position of the government including parliament in the year 2007.Women face lots of restriction during their campaigns due to lack of resources and cultural barriers, and they cannot put their posters and photos for publicity everywhere due to threats from conservative elements.
The 2004 presidential and Provincial Council election 41 percent of the voters were women (Ponticelli, 2009). The number of women voters’ shrunk from 41 percent to 35 percent in 2009 presidential and provincial council election. The physical security, cultural security, religious restrictions are the reasons given for low participation of women in 2009 elections (IRI, 2009:18).As Heinrich Boll Stiftung (2014) quoted from IEC Chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani “there was 64 percent male votes and 36 percent female in the first round and 62 percent male and 38 percent female in the runoff”.
The data presented above suggested that there were huge numbers of women voters in early years of the post-Taliban period, but this is decreased gradually. There are lots of reasons which bring the transparency of the election under question. According to Free Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), there is a number of problem with the election process such as registration of multiple identity cards by an individual, proxy vote in term of male voting for female, (IRI, 2009:11). The other problem is structural constraints such as cultural and traditional norms. Lack of education also influences women participation as voters. Being as an observer in both 2004 and 2009 elections I found that women got disappointed because they did not get anything out of previous elections and their situation deteriorated and there no changes in their lives so they lost their hope from government institutions and the electoral process. Otherwise, women in 2004 presidential election had a great enthusiasm for the election process and new changings were taking place. The numbers of women voters in southern part of the country were extremely low due to security threats and cultural and traditional norms (HRWR, 2005:9). The Southern part of the county is more insecure compared to another part of the country so lack of security was the main reason for lack women political participation. So the statistical figures do not tell the whole story because there was lots of corruption involved in this process and there is a difference among women voter in terms of their ethnicity and geographical identities so it affected women political participation.
Women are being excluded from the peace talks since 2005. They were present only in two rounds of talk while the women had paid the highest price of Taliban brutality (NíChonghaile, 2014). The presence of women in the peace talk is a need because their demand and voices are important as that if men. The harsh impact of conflict and war is on women and children, so their interest cannot be represented by men. Women have a limited role not only in the different body of the governments but also in conflict resolution and peace talks. There were number of peace talks which took place in years 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 which mostly and women are being excluded (Oxfam, 2014:30-34)
In Afghanistan, numbers of institutional mechanisms were introduced based on the Bonn agreement. The establishment of Ministry of Women affairs, Afghan Constitution, Independent Human Right Commission, Afghan National Action Plan, and Elimination of Violence against Women Law are the important mechanisms for mainstreaming gender in Afghanistan. 25% quota system can be the other important achievements in post-2001. It is important to know what is quota: Article 83 of the constitution guarantees Afghan women 25 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, and almost 17 percent in the upper house, the Meshrano Jirga, or House of Elders (Afghan Constitution, 2004:14, 15). The quota system helped Afghan women to have a significant female representation in parliament but this is not the whole story. As Rahman, (2014) point out the quota are not matching with sufficient investment in women’s leadership skills, and as result of socio-cultural and systematic gender-based prejudice, women continue to be marginalized. The presence of few women parliamentarian cannot bring any change unless the structural prejudice and violence against women and their participation is not overcome in the country.
Two sets of challenges against women political participation identified: The challenges which women face during the election as a voter or as a candidate and the overall challenges and prejudice against women’s presence in public or politics.
Security is a threat against both male and female political participation, but the harsh impact would be on women due to the political culture of the country which associates male to public domain and women to the private domain. There were 19 attacks on presidential candidate and 23 attacks on provincial council candidates in the 2009 election. Many voters educating centers outside of Kabul did not operate due to lack of security (IRI, 2009:10). Lack of secure environment, cultural and structural constraints were the reasons that limited women’s abilities to fully exercise their political rights as a candidate and a voter. (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, 2009:3). Grenfell (2004:22) has the same concern. Human Rights Watch interviewed women of high public standing and professional credentials that cited travel-related security concerns, conservative family norms, limited financial resources, and intimidation by warlords and their subordinates as reasons they chose not to be candidates in September’s elections (Human Right Watch Report 2005:3).
Asia Foundation’s July 2004 survey, “found that 88 percent of men and 85 percent of women believed that women need their husband’s permission to vote. Furthermore, over four-fifths of the men surveyed stated that women need a man’s advice for whom to vote. This highlights the necessity, under Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for Afghanistan to take all appropriate measures to modify such cultural views that are clearly based on stereotypical roles for Afghan men and women” Grenfell (2004:22).
Women need to have a good economic situation in order to be active in the political process. There were women who cannot campaign effectively due to lack of economic resources and their dependency to male. So in such situation, the chance of their winning would be less. According to 2003 UNICEF data, 86 percent of girls and women over the age of fifteen are illiterate (UNICEF 2003 is cited by Human Watch Report 2005:6). Illiteracy, forced marriage, and poor health condition are the contributing factors in women presence political process. Alvi (2011) has the same concerns for limited women role in the political process (Alvi 2011:1).
Corruption, organized criminal activities, and lack of governance are the key determinant factors for the implementation of the national and international program on gender and women empowerment (USIP, 2012). Women who are there in the high post link to warlord in some or other ways (Ashraf, nd). As male counterpart female also represent the interest of certain locality, ethnic, class, linguistic and geography. In Afghanistan women presence in public sectors are for fulfilling the quota system or statistics to get donors supports. Skill development and capacity building could be an essential tool for women empowerment in Afghanistan (USIP, 2012).
The Bonn conference was important in terms of constituting institutional mechanisms for removing gender gap. There was a number of international institutional mechanisms which were put in place in Afghanistan. There are numbers of achievements. For example, quota system, the new Afghan constitution, Human Right Commission, Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Human Right Commission. Women political participation, as decision makers and as voters are other important measures for improvement of women, for instance, 27% of Wolesi Jirga (Lower house) and 16% of Meshrano Jirga (Upper House) are women. In High Peace Commission, nine out eighty are women (APS-BAAG Women right, nd). But, it is not the whole story of women between yeas 2001-2014. A serious problem still remains. For example, conservative warlords are still in power and they are not welcomed with the gender-related policies. Cultural and traditional practices still restrict women political participation. Lack of security, transparency, traditional barriers, and corruption limit implementation of policy related to women. Women in some part of the country still remain in the margin and there are no changes in their lives during last two decades. Illiteracy and poor health condition are other contributing factor for the marginalization of women. The symbolic presence of women in different sectors remains a problem where they have not given the real power. The gender-related policy found it difficult to adjust to the local context of Afghanistan.
She has completed Masters degree in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi, India.
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