Kabul You never quite realize how lucky you are to
have the right to vote until you meet women who have
been maimed because they are fighting for
that same right.
On Oct. 9, for the first time in nearly 40 years,
Afghan women will have a say in who governs them. The
United Nations has registered more than 10 million
eligible voters, about 42 per cent of whom are women.
That remarkable achievement is perhaps testimony to
the slow political awakening of Afghan women.
In urban centres such as Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and
even Jalalabad, women are encouraging each other to
vote, in hopes that they can change their lives, those
of their children.
There is even a female presidential candidate, Dr.
Massouda Jalal, a former pediatrician who said she
hoped to harness the female vote.
"Women have not been responsible for the bloodshed of
the country. I am sure if a woman was in charge, all
the tragedies of our country would not have happened."
Dr. Jalal, 41, a mother of three has posters of herself
wearing a headscarf glued on nearly every light post,
and wall in the Afghan capital. It is extremely
unlikely that she will win, as she has admitted, but
the very image of a woman running for public office
only 3 years after the Taliban told them they were not
allowed to leave the house, sends a powerful signal.
But Jamila Mujahed, editor of the women's magazine,
Malalai, said it was an uphill battle because of
pervasive attitudes toward women. But she is hopeful
those attitudes will change because life is better now
than it was under the Taliban.
"Afghan women are more aware of their future and we
women will never allow these ideas to overcome us. But
you can't after 25 years of war expect change in two.
It is happening, slowly, slowly."
In the conservative southern and eastern provinces
change has come at a cost. In Jalalabad, to the east
of Kabul, for example, the Public Hospital is a dirty,
fly-infested section with little medicine, even fewer
doctors. One of the rooms has been reserved for the
victims of the June 26 bombing in which three women
election workers were killed and at least a dozen
Fawzia Mohmadi, 30, an elections worker, was burned,
received shrapnel wounds to her left leg. But even
worse than the injuries was the attitude of some of
the men who saw the mini-bus burning, she said.
"I heard men shouting let them burn," she recalled.
"They were only women begging for dollars. They were
the kind of men who don't let women out of the house
and don't let women work. I took the hand of one man
and said, 'please help, you are a Muslim.'
Despite the misogynistic attitudes, she would not be
"This is my country," she said. "Death is coming one
day and it can't be prevented. I'm an educated woman I
have to work for other women. I am also a citizen of
this country. I have suffered because of this
That sense of duty to the country was also the
sentiments expressed in Zabul, the heartland of the
Taliban. In the capital, Qalat, Noor Bibi, another
election worker, admitted that most women would not
receive permission from their husbands or brothers, to
vote on Oct 9.
For that, she and her four colleagues had a plan.
"We will go to their houses, and tell the men that we
need to take their wives to the medical clinic. Then
we will sneak them here and they can cast their
ballots," she said, triumphantly.