'No Shortage of Women' Participating in Afghan Election

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Regarding the Aug. 31 front-page article "Many Women Stayed Away From the Polls in Afghanistan":

I was an election observer in Afghanistan as part of the mission organized by the International Republican Institute. One of the dangers of participating in such an exercise is that it has the effect of looking at a nation the size of Texas through a straw and attempting to draw conclusions based upon this restricted view. The international observer groups attempt to bunch the straws together to get a better view, but it is a flawed process at best.

As an example, I was sent to Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan. Mazar-e Sharif is majority Tajik as opposed to the overall Afghan plurality, which is Pashtun. It is also the center of power for the main challenger to Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah.

There was no shortage of women voting in this city of 300,000; no shortage of female poll watchers; no shortage of women managing polling sites.

In one polling location, the four men's tents at midday were empty. Each of the three women's tents had a line of 12 to 15 women waiting to vote. A significant number of young women were on hand as poll watchers -- not for one of the major candidates for president but for one of the many candidates for provincial council.

That bears repeating: In Mazar-e Sharif, not only were women voting, but women were at the polling places as representatives of their party or candidate for provincial council. That means a new generation of young women in northern Afghanistan is becoming involved in the political process.

It is clear that Afghanistan is having significant issues with the way this election was conducted. But in one city, looking through one straw, it looked as if it went pretty well.



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