Afghan women opt for change through democracy

Lys Anzia – WNN Breaking Commentary

Afghan women lining up to vote 2014
Afghan women line up at a local voting poll in Afghanistan on Saturday April 5, 2014. Image: UNAMA

(WNN) Kabul, AFGHANISTAN, SOUTHERN ASIA: As the Saturday April 5 final vote count is yet to come in for the presidential election in Afghanistan, the power of Afghan women who carry a wish for a ‘changed and better’ country has already created change in the form of 1.3 million registered women voters.

“We think the ballot is the best weapon that women have to place their concerns on the table and to have them addressed,”said Nicholas Haysom, the acting head of the United Nations presence in Afghanistan (UNAMA), as he reflected the feeling of women in Afghanistan on-the-ground.

“All three main contenders—former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and former foreign ministers Zalmai Rassoul and Abdullah Abdullah —have vowed to support women’s rights if elected,” outlined the Wall Street Journal almost one week ago.

In spite of brutal intimidation, threats, violence and 39 suicide bombings in the preceding eight weeks leading up to the presidential and local elections, the total male and female seven million voter 60 percent turnout has shown a wave of citizen engagement, courage and determination. Regardless of the challenges women voters have shown they want to stand up together to the forces that have wanted to push them down.

As the final tally for the vote is set to be counted, in what may take many weeks, the integrity of the final count in the election may hinge on how many voter irregularity complaints have been made at ballot polls throughout Afghanistan. Once the irregularities are investigated, how many votes will actually be counted as true and fair votes? And will this change the final outcome?

Voters, observers and candidates have filed more than 3,000 complaints following Saturday’s historic presidential vote, reports Stars and Stripes, Newsweek, Deutsche Welle and others. These complaints are largely down from one million votes that were thrown out in the 2009 Afghan election. In the meantime Afghan women throughout the region have shown their tenacity with a desire to speak out on issues affecting them personally.

In spite of voter complaints the post election mood in the region for women is ebullient, cheerful and full of energy.

Photojournalist Lynsey Addario with Time magazine agrees. She was in Kabul on assignment with Time taking photographs the week running up to the election. In spite of what she describes as the “merciless massacres” of Afghan citizens as well as foreign and local journalists, Addario is seeing a shift for the better. Her work in the region in May 2000 revealed clearly the rule of Taliban religious extremists who had a tenacious and cruel hold on the country.

Today this hold is weakening in a movement that is part of a people’s movement toward democracy that is spread household to household, school by school, twitter tweet by tweet, conversation by conversation.

“I believe in the right of women to take part just as men do, to get themselves educated and to work,” said 21-year-old Parwash Naseri to The New York Times as she showed up at the polls at a local neighborhood high school in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. It is estimated that the percentage count for women voters is higher in Afghan cities than the rural villages.

“If we don’t participate in the election and choose our destiny, this nation will not get better. Our one vote could change the future of Afghanistan,” said Ms. Anar Gul from the Pakia province in eastern Afghanistan to UNAMA before she cast her vote last Saturday.

“Our voting in the elections will help this country walk forward towards democracy and prosperity,” Anar Gul added.

The final count for Afghanistan’s election is due to be announced on April 24. If the presidential count for candidates does not show a 50 percent count, or better, for one of the presidential candidates the another re-vote in a run-off election will be made.


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