What it’s like to run for office as a woman in Afghanistan
By: Devin Cowick, Program & Communications Consultant, Peace is Loud
Running for political office is tough. Running for office as a woman is even tougher. But running for office as an Afghan woman? Those women are in a league of their own.
Each Afghan woman who runs for political office has a story of perseverance, sacrifice, and courage. Despite being told by society that her place is at home, she has dedicated herself to breaking into the public sphere. Why? Perhaps because she experienced the trauma of child marriage and hopes to prevent the same fate for her daughter. Or maybe she has a legal background and dreams of ridding her country of crippling corruption.
Having decided to run, an Afghan woman political candidate must seek financial support for her campaign. She may not have the blessing of her family or community. She is unlikely to get much help from the male-dominated political parties and networks. And her male opponents are sure to outspend her tenfold.
Imagine hosting a modest gathering of constituents with tea and light appetizers. On the same day, your male opponent hosts a large gala offering free meals and winter clothing to attendees. How can you compete with that?
Spreading her message to constituents has its own unique challenges. An Afghan woman candidate may face illiteracy and lack of education among voters. She must contend with opponents’ manipulation of religion and a media biased against her. She may even have to campaign under the anonymity of a burqa. She will certainly face harassment and more serious security concerns.
But once an empowered Afghan woman finally wins a seat at the decision-making table – that’s when the magic happens.
An Afghan Woman Parliamentarian In Action
In 2009, Hon. Shinkai Karokhail was the only Member of Parliament to speak out against a draft Shia Family Law, which implicitly approved child marriage and negated the need for sexual consent between married couples. On her own, Shinkai reached out to the international media, forcing the President to accept amendments to the draft law.
This is just one example of the power of an Afghan woman parliamentarian when equipped with the tools and resources to make independent decisions that advance women’s rights.
But Afghan women MPs like Shinkai can’t create lasting change on their own. They need a network of like-minded women committed to advancing the rights of women and girls, both inside and outside parliament.
This is where the Mina’s List network comes in.
“I am in [the Mina’s List] group because we want to change the lives of the women of Afghanistan and we cannot do it by ourselves. We can assist one another so that we can maximize the opportunities the women of Afghanistan have, so that we will be able to bring real democracy to Afghanistan.”
– Hon. Raihana Azad, Member of Afghan Parliament
Mina’s List’s 2018 Afghan Project
The project’s ambitious purpose is to prepare 40 women aspiring candidates –representing each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces – to run for political office on a women’s rights and peace platform. Given the upcoming parliamentary elections in October 2018, this project has the potential to be especially significant.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this year’s project picks up where we left off three years ago. In 2015, Mina’s List partnered with the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) and Afghan Women’s Educational Center (AWEC) to help prepare 15 women aspiring candidates to run in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections.
“We have built a network here; the aspiring women candidates, women parliamentarians, and women activists. I hope these workshops continue in the future. We seriously need women’s self-driven activism all over the world, and in particular in Afghanistan.”
– Halima Askari, aspiring candidate for Wardak province
The workshops were such a success that ML and its partners immediately began the process of replicating the program for additional women aspiring candidates from underrepresented provinces. However because of repeated postponements of Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, Mina’s List had to delay the second round of workshops, until now.
With elections finally scheduled for October, Mina’s List and its in-country partners have begun implementing Phase II of the Afghan Project, which consists of empowerment workshops, a mentorship program, and a campaign and fundraising app that could level the playing field for women political candidates in Afghanistan.
The empowerment workshops will take place in June 2018 in New Delhi, India and will bring women aspiring candidates together with women civil society activists, women parliamentarians, and representatives of the Afghan government.