Hundreds of women are running for seats in Afghanistan's parliamentary and provincial council elections this Sunday, which are considered a key step in the country's transition to democracy. But violence and intimidation threaten to undermine women's participation, both as voters and candidates.
Ms. Jami is an advocate for women's rights, but on this day, she is addressing an audience of men only. "I have tried first to get the men to listen and then the women. I noticed this brought me good results. Because in Afghan society, if a man can agree with what a woman says, this is excellent, then we all can agree."
Ms. Jami is one of several hundred women among some 3,000 candidates running for parliament in Sunday's elections.
|Two girls walk past a wall covered with election posters for one candidate|
But since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taleban government in 2001, Afghanistan has set up a democratic system of government and the lives of many women have improved. Under the new Afghan law, women are guaranteed one quarter of the 249 national assembly seats.
Lina Abirafeh, who works on the United Nations and Afghan government group organizing Sunday's elections, says women are already playing a more prominent role in public life.
|Lina Abirafeh, United Nations|
Still, women candidates face obstacles above and beyond those of Afghan men in this conservative Muslim society.
Taleban insurgents have threatened to kill women taking part in the election. On Wednesday, a female candidate in eastern Nuristan province survived an assassination attempt after attackers fired at her while she was campaigning.
A recent report by the rights group, Human Rights Watch, in New York says that in some Taleban stronghold provinces, several seats will remain empty because there are so few women candidates. The group warns of an "underlying climate of fear among many voters and candidates, especially in rural areas."
"I think people are interested but a lot of women don't understand what this election is about and what the parliament actually means,” said Ms. Yelenek. ”So it's our job really to explain to people what the elections are and what the parliament is, what the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) is, what the provincial councils do and, you know, what their rights are fundamentally."
Many people, like one woman from Herat province, also complain that they do not know anything about the candidates. "During the Taleban years, the country broke down, there were no schools, so people emigrated to Iran and Pakistan and other countries. Now they have just returned, some aren't even from Herat, and we don't know who these candidates are."
Whatever the outcome on Sunday, observers say that the elections will be a critical test of women's freedom to take part in Afghanistan's political life.
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