UK gives £18.5 million to lift Afghan women’s poll presence

by Maria Caspani | www.twitter.com/MariaCaspani85 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 26 November 2013 17:44 GMT

Afghan National Army (ANA) female officers take their oaths before a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, October 8, 2013. Photo REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

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Western countries hope Afghan women will take part in presidential elections next April, but the withdrawal of foreign troops, and recent killings of prominent Afghan women, may be major deterrents

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Britain will give £18.5 million to Afghanistan to help more Afghan women take part in the presidential election next April, the government said in a statement on Tuesday.

Women's rights in Afghanistan have improved since the fall of the Taliban over a decade ago but a string of killings of high-profile female politicians and police officers is fuelling concern that hard-won rights are being eroded as international forces prepare to withdraw next year.

"Despite recent progress on women’s rights in Afghanistan, many still face significant challenges, from physical violence and psychological abuse through to exclusion from the political process," Justine Greening, secretary of state for international development, said in a statement.

"We are helping to tackle the root causes of these issues to ensure that women’s voices are heard."

The Afghan election monitor said earlier this year that many Afghan women might be unable to vote in the April 5, 2014 presidential elections because of a severe shortage of women in the security forces, The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said there were only 2,000 of the 12,000 women needed to carry out body searches at women-only polling stations.

Voting is segregated as the two sexes are not permitted to mingle in public in Afghanistan.

The new British aid aims at increasing the number of women voters and raising the awareness and engagement of Afghan women in the election process through workshops and radio, TV and leaflet campaigns.

Part of the money was allocated to support the IEC’s Gender Unit, which is working to increase female participation in the election. Some £3 million will be earmarked for training people working in the formal and community-based justice sectors and for outreach work and support for male religious leaders, educators and Afghan women working to improve awareness of these issues among the Afghan public.

Security is a massive problem for women voters, especially in remote parts of the country.

Billions have been invested in promoting human rights in Afghanistan over more than 12 years of war. Last month, Norway took the rare step of cutting aid on the ground that Afghanistan had failed to meet commitments to protect women's rights and fight corruption.

Also, the looming withdrawal of international troops in 2014 may threaten the oversight of U.S. aid programmes, with those targeting women and girls likely to be the worst monitored, according to U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, whose remarks last month were published in the Huffington Post.

Sopko said one of the programmes that could falter as troops leave Afghanistan is USAID's Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs, a $200 million initiative designed to promote the education and training of women in Afghan society.

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