Friday, September 16, 2005

Rumblings of democracy in Afghanistan

Institute for War and Peace Reporting is a great source of reporting on Afghanistan and Iraq. IWPR develops and trains local journalists in many conflict torn countries. I subscribe to two of their email reports, Afghan Recovery Report and the Iraq Press Monitor. They have many email reports to choose from here.

Tonight's email included some profiles of some candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections running in the Kabul area. I love it. The profiles makes the elections seem more real -- the same vibe I go for in blogs -- these are glimpses of real people bravely standing up to be counted. Here are excerpts from the women candidates' profiles:

  • Shukria Barakzai
    When Shukria Barakzai was whipped by the Taleban's religious police for being out on a Kabul street without a male chaperone, she went home and cried for two days.

    But the memory of that humiliation steeled her to go into politics and stand for a seat in the Afghan parliament. It also lies behind her campaign slogan, "Rights and Justice"...

  • Ghotai Khawri
    Ghotai Khawri is a researcher and writer who is "tired of politics" but who is nonetheless fighting hard to win a seat in parliament.

    "I am tired of politics and I will not follow the policies [of parties or blocs] when I am in parliament, I will only defend the rights of the people," she vowed, adding that she is not herself a member of any party or organisation.

  • Soraya Parlika

    Parlika is no stranger to political activity. For more than 40 years - since the reign of King Zahir Shah - she has been campaigning for women's rights. A Kabul native, she never emigrated - not during the Soviet invasion, nor the bloody years of war, nor the years of repression under first the mujahedin and then the Taleban.

    Parlika was a communist for many years, and studied in the Soviet Union in the Seventies. She still speaks quite passable Russian.

    ...Given her record as a survivor, the threats and intimidation she has experienced as one of 347 women running nationwide for a seat in the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of parliament have not presented too much of a challenge to 61-year-old Parlika.

  • Sabrina Saqeb
    The smooth complexion, white teeth and smile of a professional model stare down at passers-by from shop fronts and billboards across Kabul, creating something of a stir in this conservative Muslim environment. These are not ads for cosmetics - they are campaign posters for Sabrina Saqeb, who at 26 says she is the youngest candidate standing for the Afghan parliament.

    ..."I am younger than the other candidates, and I want people to know it. It was my choice to wear a yellow scarf in my posters. Other women candidates have dark scarves on their heads, which implies that there is still misfortune in the country. I wanted a bright colour," she said.

And here is another article from IWPR about the women candidates in a conservative, Pashtun region. Ghazni's Formidable Females:
Lack of security and opposition from family members are minor obstacles to some of the candidates standing for parliament in a staunchly conservative region.

By Wahidullah Amani in Ghazni (ARR No. 186, 12-Sep-05)

The women parliamentary candidates of Ghazni province really are quite special. One, Hosai Andar, travels fearlessly to the remotes regions and swears that even al-Qaeda supporters will vote for her.

Another, Rahila Kobra Alamshahi, found two tiny children living alone in a container, scouring rubbish bins for food. She took them home with her -- permanently. And a third, Kobra Sadat, hid her candidacy from her husband, who hit the roof when he found out but eventually realised he couldn't win, so he joined her campaign.

While female candidates, as elsewhere in this male-dominated country, are in the minority in this province southwest of Kabul, there are enough of them to make their mark.

Twelve women and 119 men are competing for the province's 11 seats in parliament, with three of the seats specifically reserved for women. There are nine women among the 123 candidates chasing 19 seats on the provincial council, where five places are allocated to women.

These reports really give me hope. I've followed Afghani news and politics closely ever since 9/11, and I'm really hopeful about this election. There has been a Taleban resurgence of late, but there are also solid, hopeful signs that an organic democracy is taking root.

This summer I read "My Forbidden Face" about a girl growing up in Kabul under the Taleban. I really must review it here some time. I already knew about many of the horrors perpetrated against women by the Taleban. Reading about one woman growing up under that oppression let the real impact of that oppression sink in. Reading these profiles makes me realize the almost unimaginable magnitude of the changes that are taking place in Afghanistan. Kabul was once a cosmopolitan city more heavily influenced by the outside world. The medieval reactionary Taleban waged a cultural genocide against modernity that trapped and oppressed women -- all in the horribly misappropriated name of Islam. There is no doubt in my mind that we have done good by Afghans in ridding them of these fundamentalist fanatics. To see these women, able to stand up as candidates, really makes me feel optimistic.

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