Afghan election: Legitimate for whom?

A group of women gather at the National Stadium, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke at a rally in Kabul. Photo by Nikki Kahn – The Washington Post

Tomorrow, Afghanistan goes to the polls — and many people are questioning whether it’s even possible to hold a “legitimate” election given the potential for low turnout due to recent threats of violence by the Taliban.

But, as Jeanne Brooks reminds us at Women’s eNews, it’s not just violence that threatens democracy in Afghanistan — it’s the disenfranchisement of women. President Hamid Karzai recently signed a law that severely restricts women’s rights. Among many other appalling provisions, it prevents Shia women from casting a vote without their husband’s permission.

As Rachel Reid writes in the Washington Post,

Things got much worse recently when President Hamid Karzai officially promulgated legislation that would make the Taliban proud. Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern: As Karzai’s government has grown weaker he has increasingly turned to some of society’s most conservative elements for support.

In other words, Karzai has shored up his own power at the expense of women. Among Afghans who are risking their lives to vote, he is seen by many to be the only “real choice” in tomorrow’s election.

We’ve got a feminist Secretary of State who has professed her commitment to keeping women’s rights central to her agenda. And yet, Brooks points out, the U.S. and British governments decided not to raise a political uproar about the latest restrictions on women’s rights “out of fear of disrupting the election.” But if women’s voting rights are restricted, the election is already disrupted and illegitimateviolating several articles of the Afghan constitution and international treaties that Afghanistan has signed.

MADRE (an international women’s rights group) has created a survival fund that “supports an underground rescue network of women committed to providing shelter and secret transport to women who have been targeted because they dare to speak out for human rights.” Click here to donate to the fund.

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