Afghan Women Stand in Line to Vote
Afghanistan’s National Assembly and Provincial Council Elections
Kabul, Afghanistan. 18 September, 2005
Photo from USAID
Last week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its audit report on Barriers to Greater Participation by Women in Afghan Elections (SIGAR Audit-10-1 Women’s Participation in Elections | October 28, 2009). I have been reading these inspection and audit reports for a while now and I, frankly, have yet to read a report that I like from SIGAR. This one is no different in its lightness of being. Quick summary below taken from the report:
SIGAR reviewed the level of women’s participation in the elections held on August 20, 2009, and the extent to which the Afghan government and international community created an environment conducive for women to vote openly and freely. Specifically, SIGAR identified the challenges women voters and women candidates faced in the presidential and provincial council elections. SIGAR conducted this performance audit in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Washington, D.C., from March to September 2009, in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
What SIGAR Found: Lack of a secure environment and cultural and structural constraints limited women’s ability to fully exercise their political rights to register, campaign, and vote in the August 2009 elections. Observers reported incidents of male proxy voting for female voters, very low female voter turnout, and women voters voting on instructions from their families or from people present at the polling station. Many organizations, including both national and international non-governmental organizations, United Nations, and Afghan government institutions, engaged in a variety of public outreach activities to encourage women to participate. Nevertheless, many women restricted their movements and participation in the election process.
The Independent Election Commission, Afghanistan’s electoral body, and the United Nations lacked sufficient focus on resolving issues related to women prior to the election. For example, at least 80,000 female polling staff were needed, but only 43,341 were successfully recruited, according to the United Nations. We previously reported that conducting credible and acceptable elections not only depends on the integrity of the election process but the willingness and ability of the next Afghan government to continue to build electoral capabilities so that democratic principles and the electoral process are sustained. In this regard, the Independent Election Commission needs to specifically address the challenges that female candidates and voters face earlier in the process and implement the necessary corrective actions to create an environment more conducive for women to participate in the election process.
Here is the report’s recommendation:
RECOMMENDATIONS To address the challenges that female candidates and voters face, SIGAR recommends that the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan urge the IEC, in conjunction with the United Nations, to implement necessary corrective action, including:
- proactively recruit and train female IEC staff and increase the number of female staff to better integrate the fundamental needs of women candidates and voters in IEC’s planning process,
- communicate to all IEC staff the importance and criticality of following electoral law and procedures, including increased supervision over IEC field staff, to eliminate proxy voting (e.g. men voting for women);
- reprimand and/or publicly report violators of electoral infractions, particularly for proxy voting (men voting for women) and multiple registrations (men registering for women) to ensure fairness and credibility in the election process;
- ensure registration and polling centers are located in secure, accessible locations, staffed by females, to allow women to register and vote free from intimidation, and
- raise awareness of the right of women to participate fully in the electoral process through broad civic education programs.
C’mon, have Ambassador Eikenberry urge the IEC? Really? And what if the IEC says “no,” as it did with those polling booths for the now cancelled election run-off? Proactively recruit? Meaning they recruited for this election but it was not proactive? “Reprimand and/or publicly report violators of electoral infractions,” and then what? Give them 5 lashes?
The report says that “Many organizations, including both national and international non-governmental organizations, United Nations, and Afghan government institutions, engaged in a variety of public outreach activities to encourage women to participate.” But it did not say how many is many, 10, 50, 100? It did not indicate which organizations were engaged on which specific activities or what kind of public outreach activities were conducted there prior to the election. What did the Ministry of Women’s Affairs do, if any?
How can we read and understand this in context without a baseline data on political participation of women in Afghanistan? Is it better or worse compared to their last presidential election? If so, why or why not? What are we supposed to do with the cultural and structural barriers besides what the many organizations there are already doing? And how much money did we spend on women public outreach? US taxpayer’s money footed half the $300 million election, how much did USAID, State, DOD, etc, spend on better electoral participation by women?
This report sinks in the lightness of its being. I hope SIGAR has better reports coming down the pipe. Oops, sorry, I meant to say, coming down the pipeline…
Barriers to Greater Participation by Women in Afghan Elections
SIGAR Audit-10-1 Women’s Participation in Elections | PDF
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