As President Bush noted in last week's debate, large numbers of Afghan women have been registered to vote in anticipation of the presidential election scheduled for October 9. However, a report released by Human Rights Watch yesterday notes that Afghan warlords and Taliban have been threatening women who plan to participate in public life. Furthermore, although official figures indicate that 41 percent of registered voters in Afghanistan are women, HRW finds that the percentage has been inflated by multiple registrations and that the figure varies dramatically from region to region depending on the level of security. In areas with active insurgencies, such as those along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, less than 10 percent of registered voters are women.
Problems for women in politics in Afghanistan may become particularly acute next year when parliamentary elections occur. Although approximately 25 percent of the seats in the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament are set aside for women, many women are afraid to run for office as a result of intimidation by local warlords.
Feminists have long argued that changing the law to remove formal barriers to women's participation in the political, economic, and social lives of their communities is merely a first step toward insuring gender equality. The situation in Afghanistan illustrates, very dramatically, why this is true.