Women's Political Involvement in Afghanistan

Canadian Women for Afghanistan, a non-profit organization created to advance education and educational opportunities for Afghan women and their families and to increase the understanding of Canadians about human rights in Afghanistan, has published a series of fact sheets on the political participation of women in Afghanistan, including both as political candidates and as citizen voters. 

The executive branch of the government does not reserve spots for women, but has seen a small number of female ministers and election candidates. There were three women vice presidential candidates in 2014 and the most recent woman presidential candidate was Masooda Jalal in 2004. 

The High Council of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, on the other hand, has not had a woman member since its establishment in 2004. Participation by women as judges has also been limited across Afghanistan due to social stigma and threats from anti-government elements. Currently, only five out of Afghanistan's 34 provinces have female judges: Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Takhar, and Baghlan. Women are almost completely excluded from informal judicial bodies, which hold authority in many areas throughout Afghanistan. 

In accordance with Afghanistan's Constitution and Electoral Law, two-thirds of the members of the Upper House of the bicameral legislative branch, the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders), are indirectly elected while the president appoints one-third. Of the 68 seats directly elected, 17 are required to be reserved for women. In 2010, only 11 women out of 68 representatives were elected. Of the 34 seats appointed by the president, 50% must be women. In 2011, President Karzai met this requirement, appointing at least 17 women to positions. 

The Lower House, the Wolesi Jirga, is comprised of 249 seats, 3 of which are reserved for female Kuchis and an additional 65 seats reserved for other women, in accordance with Article 83 of Afghanistan’s Constitution and Electoral Law. In the last elections in 2010, 69 women won seats in Afghanistan’s 249-seat parliament, which though it fulfills the legal obligation, still shows that women are greatly underrepresented.

Overall, 28% of Afghanistan's legislature is composed of women, making it one of the most heavily female law-making bodies in Asia. Despite the progress that has been made, women in the legislature and at all other levels of political engagement still face significant challenges including major security threats posed by the Taliban and traditional social and religious conventions that hinder women’s access to the political process.

Women voters also face challenges, especially due to the lack of female staff employed by the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC). Only having access to a male investigator serves as a barrier for women who wish to voice complaints about discrimination they may have suffered. Only 11% of the 4,000 complaints lodged by voters in regard to the 2010 election came from women. 

Another barrier to women's concerns being heard is the IECC requirement that complaints must be submitted in writing. Low literacy rates among women, especially in rural areas, make it extremely difficult for some women to submit their complaints. 

In order to protect and enhance women's suffrage in Afghanistan, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has developed a number of initiatives, including: 

  1. Coordination of meetings between the Ministry of Hajj and Ministry of Women’s Affairs
  2. Consultations with Mullahs to sensitize them on the importance of women’s electoral participation
  3. Seminars with women on the importance of their participation as voters
  4. Information leaflets to increase awareness on voter registration and polling
  5. A ‘Gender and Elections group’ to raise and discuss gender-related electoral issues
  6. Gender training for electoral staff
  7. Gender and public outreach
  8. External relations to ensure that gender relevant information/presentations are shared with various stakeholders  
  9. Separate registration and polling stations staffed by women for women


Not all of these initiatives have seen widespread success, especially due to the difficulty faced by IEC in recruiting women staff for polling locations in conservative and insecure areas. Despite numerous challenges, Afghanistan has made significant progress toward increased political rights for women both as voters and as political figures, but the country still has a long way to go. 


Read each of the full fact sheets at their respective links: 


Photo courtesy of UK in Afghanistan.

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