Friday, May 8, 2009

More Women Candidates Needed for Elections, Afghanistan

There are concerns for the participation of women candidates in this year's elections in Afghanistan. Friday, 8 May marks the last chance for candidates to register for the 20 August presidential and provincial council elections.

So far only 177 out of the 1,575 registered candidates are women, less than nine per cent of the total number of candidates.

One hundred and twenty four seats on provincial councils are reserved for women according to Afghanistan's Election Law.

"We are really concerned because with this trend we are loosing rights that we got with a lot of difficulties," said Kabul Member of Parliament Mrs Shinkai Karokhil. "Among the many reasons for this problem are the weaknesses of the provincial councils at the local level, insecurity, lack of cooperation of male leaders in a male dominated society, the lack of political will of the Government and the poverty that women are facing."

Dr Daoud Najafi of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission added: "Either security or economic issues are the main reasons of this trend."

According to the Election Law each provincial council candidate should present the signatures and voter registration card numbers from 200 supporters as part of the registration process (10,000 signatures are required for presidential candidates).

"A number of men do not give their voter cards for women to qualify nor give economical support to this very poor part of the population," said Mrs Karokhil. "The consequences of this situation are that we are going back toward a society controlled with only one gender. This is a failure of democracy because if women do not go to the provincial councils today, then they will not go to parliamentary election tomorrow and finally women will again be excluded from political participation."

Around 49 per cent of Afghanistan's population of approximately 24 million is female. A very low literacy rate estimated at around 16 percent for women compared to 31 per cent for men and a high mortality rate standing at around 1,600 to 1,900 deaths per 100,000 live births, or the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, contribute to the plight of women in Afghanistan.

Following the parliamentary and provincial council elections in 2005 women held 121 out of the 420 provincial council seats; the remaining three seats had to be given to men. In parliament women gained 27 per cent of the seats with women holding 68 out of the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House), and 23 out of the 102 seats in the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House).

In terms of the executive and judicial bodies in Afghanistan there is only one female cabinet minister, while almost 26 per cent of civil servants and 30 per cent of farmers are women.

So far two women have registered as presidential candidates for 2009 compared to one presidential and two vice presidential candidates in 2004.

Figures show that the number of women who registered for elections in Afghanistan increased from 41.5 per cent in 2004 to 44 per cent in 2005 but has decreased to 38 per cent for the 2009 vote.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Taliban Murders Women's Rights Activist

(Kandahar, Afghanistan) Provincial council member, women's rights activist and high school teacher Sitara Achikzai (also Achekzai) was murdered in Kandahar last weekend by four gunmen on two motorbikes.

Sadly, Mrs. Achekzai was brutally killed as she was exiting her vehicle in front of her house.

Officials said the attack happened in broad daylight. The Taliban have claimed responsibility. Friends said Mrs Achakzai was returning from a provincial council meeting; her assassins were lying in wait nearby.

“This cold-blooded assassination puts in question the direction that Afghanistan is heading,” warned Wenny Kusuma, the director of the United Nations Development fund for Women in Afghanistan. “There is no respect for the rule of law.”

Mrs. Achikzai was planning on leaving Afghanistan because of the security situation. She already had a ticket for a flight out on May 1.

Mrs. Achekzai's death is a major loss for the women's rights movement in Afghanistan.

Taliban assassins gun down female provincial council member

(note Sitara's blue scarf)

April 13, 2009 12:09 AM
The Taliban assassinated a female member of Kandahar's provincial council in a drive-by shooting in the insurgency-plagued southern province.

Sitara Achekzai, a female member of the Kandahar provincial council, was shot to death in broad daylight by unknown assassins in southern Kandahar province on Sunday. A spokesman for the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. Sitara died shortly after four men traveling on two motorbikes opened fire as she exited a vehicle in front of her house, provincial police chief Maitullah Qateh Khan told the Associated Press. Sitara, a proponent of women’s rights, had returned to Kandahar in 2004 after living in exile in Germany during the Taliban era.

On April 1, the Taliban attacked a Kandahar provincial council meeting shortly before noon, unleashing five suicide bombers in a complex assault that left 13 people dead including provincial education minister Mohammad Anwar Khan and the deputy of the provincial public health department, Dr. Abdulhai Razmal. Sitara Achekzai, who also attended the ill-fated meeting, suffered shrapnel wounds to her face after one of the bombers succeeded in penetrating the building’s main lobby and detonated, collapsing parts of the roof. Six of the ten policemen tasked with securing the building were among those killed in the attack.

Abdul Wali Karzai, a provincial council member and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Pajhwok News that the head of the rural development department, Eng Abdul Latif Ashna; council members Bismillah Afghanmal and Haji Syed Jan Khakrizwal; and an official of UNAMA's political branch, Mujeebur Rehman, all were injured during the attack.

Taliban officials have reportedly offered 200,000 Pakistani rupees, around $2,500, to anyone who murders a councilor.

The Taliban have a long history of attacking both provincial council meetings and high profile female personalities in Kandahar. In November, a suicide truck bomber detonated a fuel tanker truck near a government compound hosting a provincial council meeting. The massive blast killed six people, wounded 42 others, destroyed five nearby homes, and damaged the provincial intelligence headquarters. General Rahmatullah Raufi, the governor of Kandahar province at the time, said that two of the dead were provincial intelligence officers.

Last September, the Taliban assassinated Captain Malalai Kakar, the top female police officer for Kandahar, in a similar brazen daylight attack that included motorbike assassins shooting her point blank in the head as her son drove her to work. At the time of her death, Ms. Kakar was head of Kandahar’s department of crimes against women.

Other Kandahari commanders and MPs have also been targeted and killed. Two Taliban suicide bombers succeeded in penetrating Kandahar’s provincial police headquarters in September and nearly assassinated the Border Police Commander Abdul Razzaq. On July 7, 2008, MP Habibullah Jan was shot dead by assassins after visiting an Army base in the Zhari district. In February 2008, a Taliban suicide bomber killed at least 55 people including a pro-government militia commander named Abdul Hakim Jan at a dog-fighting match in the Arghandab district of Kandahar.

the Amazing Life of our Afghan Sister Sitara Achekzai

Photo by Paula Lerner.

The life of Sitara Achekzai (4:00)
April 27, 2009

We hear about the remarkable life of Sitara Achekzai. She was born and raised in Kandahar -- a city known as the birthplace of the Taliban. Sitara served as a local legislator in Kandahar, where she was a vocal proponent of women's rights. Earlier this month, she was shot and killed outsider her home.

Read the Transcript

This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI's THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI's THE WORLD is the program audio.
LISA MULLINS: We’d like to take a couple of minutes here to tell you about a remarkable Afghan woman. Her name was Sitara Achekzai. She was born and raised in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Achekzai served as a local council member in Kandahar. She used her position to advocate for women’s rights. Earlier this month, Achekzai was shot and killed outside her home. The government of Afghanistan blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan,” that’s code for the Taliban. The resurgence of the Islamist movement has made Kandahar increasingly dangerous. Women rarely go out on their own anymore. It was a lot different when Sitara Achekzai was growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s. Here’s how she described it last month, just a few weeks before she was murdered.

SITARA ACHEKZAI: It was much easier to ask for our rights then than it is now. My family was the first family to allow its women to ride on a bicycle in Kandahar city. My sister-in-law was the first woman to come out in public unveiled, and she was also the first woman to ride a bicycle. I was a girl at that time. And I remember my father always telling his children, us kids, “rights are not given, they’re taken.” And so by buying us bicycles and riding bicycles, we were taking our rights.

MULLINS: Sitara Achekzai went to college. She taught high school and she became a principal. Then she moved to Germany. She married an Afghan man living there. The couple didn’t have children. And Sitara Achekzai said she had mixed feelings about that.
ACHEKZAI: No, I’m not bitter, because I also have to admit that I’m like a man. I’ve always been raised like a man: independent, always doing things on my own. So to be quite honest, I really didn’t have the patience to raise kids, but I wanted it because it’s the tradition of the world. You know, husband and wife have kids.

MULLINS: In 2003, Achekzai and her husband returned to Afghanistan to help their country. She said it wasn’t easy.

ACHEKZAI: I have made a sacrifice of choosing to come and work and live in Kandahar. Nobody asked me to come. I left my comfortable life in Germany, a peaceful life in Germany, to come and be here. I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.

MULLINS: What Achekzai was doing was serving as one of four women on Kandahar’s Provincial Council. Local men would go to the council to air grievances and petition for relief.

ACHEKZAI: One pride that I’m happy to note is that after this many times, many of the people who come to bring complaints to us, they’re old men – but they will come and ask for me or the women to be their representatives for their case, because they’ve proven. they’ve seen now that the women are less corrupt and that they will truly hear the voices and requests of the people. So this is my pride. This is what I have done. I’m also happy to note that most of the people who come, they say the next elections they will vote for women, women only, because they see that women are doing a better job, and I’m part of that.

MULLINS: Sitara Achekzai, from a conversation with photojournalist Paula Lerner back in March. Thanks to Stoorai Ayazi for her help in the translation. Sitara Achekzai was gunned down on her way home from work on April 12th. She was 52 years old.