Afghan women on the campaign trail
Their roles as canvassers, voters, even candidates in the Aug. 20 election highlight some of the gains – and remaining challenges – facing women as the country moves toward democracy.
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But a revised version released last month appears little better, giving a husband the right to withhold food to a wife who refuses to have sex with him. Karzai then used a legislative loophole to pass the revision by decree.Skip to next paragraph
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More women in government?
For Ms. Jalal, the whole affair explains how the government is not "gender sensitive."
She had fought for years trying to pass a bill to protect women against domestic violence. Meanwhile, the Shiite marriage law sailed through parliament.
Most of the gains for women came early in the transition from Taliban rule, she says, and promises made internationally have since remained unfulfilled.
"This lack of political willingness can be solved if we have more women in the next government of Afghanistan," says Jalal, who argues that 50 percent of the positions should go to women.
A woman's style of campaigning
The women who go door-to-door for Karzai seem to talk less about what Karzai will do and instead tell personal anecdotes about how their lives are better than they were seven years ago under the Taliban.
One canvasser, Leeda Sadaat, convinced the manager of a Kabul hotel to switch allegiance from Mr. Ghani. Her list was practical – the drive from Kabul to the city of Shiberghan used to take 48 hours; now it's only nine. And when she was a refugee in Pakistan she had to pay for education, but when she came back to Afghanistan, it was free.
"I have influenced my husband and he will vote for Karzai, too," says Mrs. Sadaat, a computer operator.
Targeting women voters
Mostly, the women volunteers are not dispatched to talk to male voters. The precinct campaign directs male volunteers to reach out to influential people in the public square – in other words, men – while the women go out to the houses to influence those with private sway – the women.
Ten women volunteers work in Karzai's Precinct 8 office in Kabul. Each is assigned 50 homes to look after, paying multiple visits to each family. They especially pay a visit if they learn another candidate's workers have been courting one of the families on their list.
Gender separation seen in the campaign roles also plays out on the campaign trail. At a rally in Daikundi for Abdullah Abdullah, the men filled the bazaar, while women listened from a private square, hidden from view by sheets. A Karzai rally in a hotel ballroom kept the women sitting on the left and the men on the right.
But Karzai's Precinct 8 office happens to be headed up by a woman. Lailuma Naimzai, an obstetrician/gynecologist on leave to work for Karzai, manages a campaign team with male doctors, engineers, and businessmen working under her.
In the end, Dr. Naimzai wants what most Afghans – men and women – want.
"I want to bring some peace to the country," says Naimzai, explaining why she got into politics. "Karzai is a good person in that he brings peace, and brings a lot of clinics in the villages and hospitals to the city."