Millions Of Afghan Women Register To Vote, Hoping To Have An Impact

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RFE/RL’s Frud Bezhan took these pictures at various voter-registration centers in and around Kabul on April 1, the last day of registration for Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial elections on April 5.

KABUL — As she has for each of the past five days, 70-year-old Shugufa wakes up at 5 a.m. and trudges to a voter-registration center in Karte Seh, a neighborhood in western Kabul.

After making the hourlong journey in darkness, Shugufa squats in front of the entrance to her local voter-registration office. She takes out her small thermos of green tea and sips a cup while eating a loaf of bread — her breakfast — as she waits patiently for the office to open at 8 a.m.

Shugufa then waits for hours each day in a line bulging with hundreds of other prospective voters.

On April 1, the last day for Afghans to register to vote in the April 5 presidential and provincial elections, Shugufa finally secured a voting card that will allow her to cast her ballot and determine her country’s next leaders.

With just days to go before the polls, millions of Afghans have braved long lines and the threat of militant attacks to obtain their voter cards. A sizable number of those who rushed to register this year have been women.

According to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, around 3.8 million new voters have registered for the April 5 elections. More than one-third of these new voters are women. That’s a significant number in a deeply conservative country like Afghanistan, where women continue to face considerable obstacles in exercising their basic rights.

Shugufa, draped in a long black shawl, says she is determined to make herself heard at the ballot box — even if it means putting her life at risk. “[Women] do not have education and do not have a voice. Years of war and suffering have ensured this,” she says. “If there is violence and people die, I don’t care if I’m killed as well. I will vote. There’s no reason I won’t vote.”

Maintaining Their Gains

Shugufa, like many women in Afghanistan, is worried about losing some of the hard-won gains they have secured in the past decade once the majority of foreign combat troops leave at the end of this year.

Indeed, a backslide in women’s rights has begun even before the foreign troops pull out.

Female lawmakers have failed in their attempts to outlaw violence against women. Instead, conservative male lawmakers have looked to reintroduce stoning as the punishment for adultery, as well as a law that prevents victims of violence and abuse from testifying against husbands and other relatives. Meanwhile, the number of seats reserved for women in provincial councils has been reduced, prompting criticism from local and international rights groups.