Blood and hope: Women in Afghanistan elections

DelhiWritten By: Nagen SinghUpdated: Oct 03, 2019, 04:57 PM IST
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Women cast their votes at a polling station in Herat in Afghanistan, on September 28, 2019. Photograph:(AFP)

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As the country prepares for a new presidential government, many wonder what kind of future lies ahead for young women in Afghanistan.

September elections in Afghanistan were expected to produce the country’s democratic transfer of power and a moral sign of social progress, however, it saw a record low turnout. 

With a handful of women running for provincial seats, Afghanistan remains a hostile place for women with the Taliban controlling some parts of the country.

Thousands of Afghan women fled from their country to escape war and violence and discrimination and they landed up in India where New Delhi is a safe haven for more than 20000 registered Afghan refugee. Many of them wish to return to Afghanistan, but their hope is gloomy and uncertain.

Kamla Hirwi is one such refugee living with her husband and two children in New Delhi. She worked as a school teacher in Kabul but now she stays at home taking care of her children. Sitting in her living room, she watches Ashraf Ghani's political advertisement appealing for votes on TV. She is not happy with any of the leaders as they have mostly supported Taliban circuitously.

Kamla says she is both hopeful and confused thinking about elections in Afghanistan. “We have seen the nastiest back home in Kabul where women are treated as a second class citizen of the country. Our communication and movements were restricted and we are almost confined in our own house. Many of us had to leave our jobs as we were not allowed to go out without a chaperone. Women are still routinely discriminated against, abused and persecuted in the country,” Kamla says as she remembers her early days in Afghanistan.

Kamala’s husband Hirwi has been working relentlessly for the last 6 years to bring together the Afghan men and women refugees who have come out of the conflict in Afghanistan. In one of these events of Afghan refugees, we met Zakia Ahmedi who is seeking asylum in India for the last two years. She explains that when the insurgents seized Kabul in 1996, they barred women from schools and work, forced them to wear the all-enveloping burqa when they left home, and even policed their shoes and makeup.

“My mother, grandmother could never go to school. If a woman was sick, she couldn’t even go to the hospital as she needs a male chaperone, but I want to live and be independent,” Zakia said.

While trying to meet as many refugee women possible, we reached Silaiwali, a place where Afghan women in Delhi are trying to escape horrors of their past by making unique dolls.

Taliban and other highly conservative insurgent groups still control some parts of Afghanistan, and violence and discrimination against women and girls continue all over Afghanistan. In 2011, it was named 'the most dangerous country' to be a woman.

37-year-old Gauhar tells that her husband was kidnapped by the Taliban. She suffered restrictions, violence and abuse every day in her city in Afghanistan, a hotbed of insurgency. “My husband worked as a driver in Kabul, he was kidnapped and killed by Taliban militants while travelling from Kabul to Bamyan.”

As the country prepares for a new presidential government, many wonder what kind of future lies ahead for young women like Gauhar and many others like her.

Throughout the changing political landscape of Afghanistan in the last fifty years, women's rights have been exploited by different groups for political gain, sometimes being improved but often being abused. There is a lot to be done before the equality of political rhetoric becomes an everyday reality for women in Afghanistan. There cannot be true peace and recovery in Afghanistan without a restoration of the rights of women.'

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)