Getting more women into politics
[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]
KABUL, 2 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - The United Nations and
the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) called on
Afghan political parties on Wednesday to promote and
support female candidates for the upcoming
The first parliamentary elections in Afghanistan
under newly elected President Hamid Karzai were
scheduled to be held in May but were postponed last
week for security and logistical reasons.
The election has already been postponed once since
the autumn due to a lack of administrative
preparedness and slow progress on a census of the
Observers and women’s rights activists are
concerned that low public awareness of the
parliamentary election, the influence of warlords in
rural areas and the strongly patriarchal traditional
culture in the country will mean women will be poorly
represented in the new parliament.
Such a situation would be technically illegal. The
new Afghan constitution states that at least 68 - two
from each province - of the 249-member lower house
must be women.
“We must be very, very serious and should not take
it easy, otherwise warlords will grasp this absolute
right of women,” Habiba Sarabi, a former minister of
women’s affairs, told IRIN at a gathering of Afghan
political parties on ending violence against women.
The meeting was organised by the United Nations
Development Fund for Women [UNIFEM] and the MoWA in
the capital Kabul.
Sarabi said male-dominated Afghan society where the
gun still ruled made women’s participation in the
political process very hard. “Unfortunately we can
clearly see political violence against women,” she
Her comments followed a demonstration in the
central province of Bamyan against a recent government
decision to appoint a female governor to the province.
Sarabi said local commanders and warlords had forced
people to attend the demonstration because they did
not want women in positions of authority in the
“People do support women as MPs, governors and
ministers but there are some elements still trying to
impede women’s development,” she noted.
Currently there are three women ministers and
several others with leading government positions in
Karzai’s new cabinet. According to local media, Kabul
is also planning to appoint women governors and
ambassadors in an attempt to show the government is
committed to gender equality.
But despite strong opposition from conservative
elements in Afghan society, Mahbooba Hoqooqmal, state
minister for women’s affairs, said women had an
important political role to play in reconciliation and
“Despite the very tense situation for women in the
country, more than 200 women attended the emergency
Loya Jirga [grand assembly] in early 2002 and 102 of
the 500 delegates of the constitutional Loya Jirga in
[December 2003] were women,” Hoqooqmal told IRIN.
Clearly women want to participate in the country’s
political process. Of more than 8 million Afghans who
voted in the presidential poll in October 2004, more
than 40 percent were female. “Also for the first time
in history we had a women presidential candidate,”
There are more than 80 registered political parties
in the country. But female membership remains low.
Some politicians explain the lack of women in politics
by arguing the high rate of female illiteracy means
women members of parliament would lack the ability to
defend women’s rights and engage in meaningful
“I am concerned about the participation of women
and also about their capacity as decision-makers in
parliament,” Hoqooqmal said. She added that there were
many qualified and capable women who should stand as
independent candidates and receive support to enable
them to do this.
“The experience of the past means many educated
women fear joining a political party, so the
government and the United Nations must encourage them
and help them to present themselves for parliamentary
elections,” she said.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.