EU must 'prioritise' women's participation in Afghanistan

Europe must ensure its 'core values' are the driving force for change in Afghanistan, says Madi Sharma.

By Madi Sharma

04 Apr 2014

Presidential elections in Afghanistan are under way, with the voting process scheduled to take place on 5 April. The challenges are many and international attention will be focusing on one of the most important issues that Afghanistan has been called to address since the overthrow of the Taliban; women participation.

For the first time in the country's history a woman will be running for the position of the vice-president. Another 300 women are running for provincial council seats around the country, a sign that things have started moving in the right direction.

Nevertheless, the challenges and setbacks women's rights have been facing in Afghanistan means we still have to be cautious about the pace of these developments. One disappointment among women's advocates has been president Hamid Karzai's refusal to allow his wife, Zeenat, to make public appearances. His wife had been practicing genecology before her husband became president and since then she has been confined to a role less approachable to the public.

"Women continue to be perceived as objects, property of their husbands, fathers and families, tradable like every other product or property"

Another important issue is the dialogue that the government of Afghanistan has had with the Taliban. The former Taliban government, which was the main reason behind the intervention of the international coalition forces in Afghanistan, had been confining women to their homes and banning them from most forms of work.

Many of the presidential candidates and others in the coalitions formed have been maintaining strong ties with the Taliban. And with the prospect of international forces leaving Afghanistan in 2014 looking ever more probable, women have every reason to be worried, and even scared, about their future.

In rural Afghanistan, outside the cities, where representatives of the international community cannot easily have access, and where most women live, the situation has not changed much. Women continue to be perceived as objects, property of their husbands, fathers and families, tradable like every other product or property.

This is exactly the areas where the efforts of the international community and those of the Afghan government should reach out to in applying a serious and long standing policy to bring a better life and stronger participation for the Afghan women.

At the moment, women registered to vote stands at around 35 per cent, which has not changed significantly since the previous elections. Efforts by the Afghan government to make proxy voting illegal have not yet brought the results expected and this could once more be the case in the upcoming elections.

We cannot leave the women of Afghanistan alone in this. We have to fight with them in bringing a better future for both them and their children. Europe needs to step-up its efforts in making women's participation in society and voting rights a priority of its agenda on Afghanistan.

Democracy and social integration lie on the core of the European values and these should be the driving force of every European action.

Read the most recent articles written by Madi Sharma - Adopting a gender-sensitive lens in global security