More women must vote in Afghan poll - rights activist

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 3 December 2013 18:45 GMT

Women cast their ballots at a polling station in Herat, western Afghanistan, during a parliamentary election in September 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

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Getting more women to vote in the April election will help prevent female voters being murdered and safeguard transparency, Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar tells Trust Women conference

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Afghan authorities should ensure a large number of women take part in next year’s make-or-break elections to prevent female voters being murdered and to safeguard transparency, Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar said on Tuesday.

“If one or two women go to a polling station, then it’s easy for the opposition to the government to identify the women and kill them, but if it’s thousands of women they cannot go behind every door and kill the people,” she said.

The independent election commission website shows that nationwide, twice as many men as women have registered so far to vote in the April 5 elections. Samar, who heads Afghanistan’s independent human rights body, said the number of women registered in some areas was very low.

Speaking at an international women’s rights conference in London hosted by Thomson Reuters Foundation, she noted that some very conservative families did not allow women to vote. Other barriers include the big distances between villages and polling stations or registration stations and the lack of female election staff.

At the last election in 2009, women’s names were used fraudulently by other people to vote, she said.

The 2009 poll was marred by widespread fraud, which tarnished President Hamid Karzai's re-election for a second term. Another flawed poll would undermine attempts by Washington and its allies to foster democracy ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops later in 2014.

But Samar, a former women’s minister, said she hoped people had learned lessons from 2009.

“So far, the preparation for the election is not bad, much better than we were all expecting. But it remains to be seen how many people will participate in the election,” said Samar, who is chairwoman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). “A good level of participation, and particularly of women, is what guarantees the transparency and security of the election.”


Samar also told the conference she hoped the United States would learn to build peace as well as wage war. The Afghan war must be ended, but wars are not always finished through military means, she said.

Afghanistan should build good governance that can protect and promote human rights and bolster public confidence in the government. That would push the Taliban aside and force them to the negotiating table, Samar said.

But she added: “We should not negotiate human rights and justice for short-term political gain.”

Samar also urged Karzai to sign a pact that would keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after next year, when most international troops pull out.

She said the international community should continue to play a role in Afghanistan. “The international community should continue to empower women in Afghanistan because with empowerment of women we promote democracy, we promote human rights, we promote development, we promote peace,” she added.

“The job in Afghanistan is not complete so the international community should stay with us and complete the job.”

The international community must also be bolder in addressing women’s rights and stop hiding behind the excuse of respecting culture and religion, she said.

Samar cited four areas vital for empowering women:

  • Quality education – “not just reading the alphabet”
  • Access to reproductive rights so women can choose the number of children they have. “If they have eight children I don’t think they can be a good politician, a good doctor or good engineer.”
  • Access to paid work. Economic independence allows women to make decisions.
  • Access to justice. Impunity on sexual violence and violence against women should be stopped.

Separately, Samar highlighted the problems of human trafficking in Afghanistan.

People are trafficked as labourers to Iran and Arabic countries, and as sex workers to neighbouring countries. Young boys are also trafficked to religious schools from where they are recruited by al Qaeda.

Samar said the government must push for political commitment to tackle trafficking which she called a "crime against humanity".

Poverty reduction is key and more must be done to stamp out corruption, which lies behind a lot of trafficking, and to end impunity for those involved in trafficking, Samar said.

For full coverage of the event, visit TrustWomen conference.

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