Meaningful participation of women in elections a consistent theme for the 2017 Global Open Day discussions

8 Nov 2017

Meaningful participation of women in elections a consistent theme for the 2017 Global Open Day discussions

KABUL - Increasing participation of women in elections as both voters and candidates is the major theme in a series of discussions currently taking place across Afghanistan marking ‘Global Open Days’.

Hundreds of women and representatives from government, religious institutions, academia and civil society are taking part in the UN-backed events in numerous regions and provinces through October and November 2017.

Launched by the UN Security Council in 2010, Global Open Days are designed to raise awareness on the role of women in maintaining and promoting peace through the prevention and resolution of conflicts. The 2017 events are being held on the premise that everyone, including women, should participate in elections because elections in themselves, are part of the peace process.

A national event is scheduled to take place in Kabul later in November, once the sessions are concluded in Badakhshan, Baghlan, Bamyan, Farah, Herat, Kandahar, Kunduz, Mazar and Nangarhar.

Participants note a general improvement in the participation of women in recent elections, particularly in 2014 that saw a 38 per cent female voter turn-out nationally. “We witnessed a tremendous turnout of women in the previous election,” says Mirwais Azizi, acting Head of the Independent Election Commission in Farah, attributing the turn-out to increased advocacy and outreach campaigns by different stakeholders.

“But more needs to be done,” says Sughra Attayee, head of the Afghan Women Network in Bamyan. “Real participation means that women have the capacity and freedom to choose the best candidates of their choice without being dictated by men and community elders” notes Attayee. “To achieve this, awareness on credible elections should underscore respect for the sanctity of the ballot,” she says.

Shared concerns are being voiced across all events about increasing women ‘s participation in elections.  Many want to see improvements on the dismal number of female candidates. According to the Constitution and electoral law, the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of parliament has 249 members and 68 of those seats are reserved for women. Political parties need to be doing more to embrace and adopt more female candidates, agree participants. In Kunduz, for instance, provincial council elections had only 7 females among 110 candidates.

“More needs to be done with upcoming elections to involve women and revive their trust and confidence,” said Gulsom Sadiqi, a women’s rights activist and previous candidate for the Provincial Council Election in Herat.

Afghanistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in July 2018 and presidential elections in 2019.

In several regions, including Kandahar, Nangahar and Kunduz, participants have highlighted security threats as a major challenge that might undermine women’s participation in upcoming elections, particularly in rural areas.

Key recommendations from across the events include a call for specific measures to put women on the ballot, improved security, as well as a nationwide awareness and advocacy campaign on women’s right to vote and the impact of elections on their lives and that of their communities.

UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides 'good offices' among other key services. 'Good offices' are diplomatic steps that the UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

UNAMA also promotes coherent development support by the international community; assists the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.