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Afghan women join fight for election

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 15 September 2010

Despite death threats and intimidation a record number of women are contesting seats in this month's Afghan parliamentary elections.  But Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum, who travelled to Bamyan earlier this year, says women there still live in fear of the Taliban.

A record number of women are fighting seats in this year's Afghanistan elections

Fighting a political campaign in Afghanistan has inherent dangers; especially for women.

Taliban insurgents oppose the country's elections generally, but they particularly oppose the election of women.

Despite the dangers there will be a record number of female names on the ballot papers come 18 September.

After decades of oppression women in Afghanistan want a say in the country's future.

Nahid Ahmadi Farid is among those standing: "We don't want to suffer for another five years.  We don't want the same problems again.

"I have stood up because of the problems Afghan women are facing. We have been inside the walls for the past 30 years and no one is listening to our voice."

Earlier this year Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum travelled to Bamiyan.  The province is peaceful but there are increasing attacks on its borders.

"When I was in Afghanistan in August, I found that women were really worried that if Hamid Karzai does a deal with the Taliban, it will be the women who are sacrificed.

"The governor of Bamiyan - Afghanistan's only female governor - became quite angry pointing out that it's always women who have to make sacrifices, no one suggests that men should give up their rights.
"A lot of male politicians and I presume, Afghan men in general, feel that the quota for women in parliament was imposed upon them by western powers, especially the Americans.

"They point out that the US and Britain don't have such a high numbers of women in their parliaments. So I think it's not just the Taliban who are resistant to these aspiring female politicians - many Afghan men feel that it's unfair."

Despite progress in the last decade many women are still denied basic human rights.

At the end of last year the United Nations was reporting that the number of violent incidents against women had risen to its highest since the fall of the Taliban.

Those standing for election in Afghanistan know they may be victims of violence.

Last month the bodies of five people working for candidate Fauzia Galani were found dead; their bodies were discovered in the western Herat province. Local reports suggested their hands had been tied and they had been shot in the head.

Malalai Joya is a woman who knows all about the dangers.

The outspoken MP receives death threats and has survived several attempts on her life.

She has publicly denounced those she considers war criminals, stood up for women's rights and campaigned on behalf of rape victims.

In 2008 she told Channel 4 News about widespread corruption among senior officials in Afghanistan: "Raping of women is so easy for them because when they are going into jail it's enough to pay money..because they have money, they are in power and they have links with each other then they will be free."

Speaking about the threats Malalai said she would stand up to those who wanted her dead: "I told them, physically one day you will be able to kill me, as you have killed many other democratic men and women in Afghanistan, and still you are killing but you can never hide the truth."

Women cannot hold political rallies in Afghanistan. They are forced to meet in mosque courtyards or inside people's homes. Some women choose to cover their faces but others speak out defiantly.

Saleha Haidary is a supporter of candidate Zahra Nadiry Farkhonda: "Why is it only Afghan women suffering? Why should we have a man leading us? 

"We want to have a woman who is among us to defend our right to express our problems in parliament and to officials."

More than 2,500 candidates will stand for 249 seats in this month's elections.

A quarter of those seats will be filled women. Women who risk their safety to ensure female voices are heard in Afghanistan.

Watch video: Katie Hunter reports on Afghan women and their political hopes

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