Old Men Replace Women in Afghan Polling Stations

By: Kathy Gannon AP Email
By: Kathy Gannon AP Email

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - The picture shows a battered woman
peering through a broken window. The words below say in Pashto, the
Afghan language: "Why in the 21st century are women here found only in the home and the cemetery?"

The poster is on the dirt-smeared wall of the Department of Women's Affairs in southern Kandahar. It's here that Roona Tarin, the women's affairs director general, is training other women to be officials in Thursday's presidential election.

Wrapped in a black shawl, her figure hidden behind a loose black robe, Tarin says dozens of women were trained. But they won't be traveling outside Kandahar, and will be deployed at "women-only polling stations."

The region around Kandahar and other parts of the south and east is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns and is deeply conservative. Women are rarely seen on the streets without wearing an all-enveloping burqa and a male relative as chaperon.

The strong Taliban presence makes things worse. Because of the
Taliban, women won't be deployed at all in the neighborhoods in the
south and the north of Kandahar.

Tarin glanced around as she spoke. "They are here in Kandahar," she said.

Tarin knows how dangerous her job can be. Her predecessor was
gunned down in 2006 outside her home in Kandahar - a killing the Taliban were quick to take responsibility for. In recent years, acid has been thrown on girls going to school, policewomen have been gunned down and threats have piled up against women who defy the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam.

Letters have circulated at night warning men not to allow their wives and daughters to vote. Companies have been told not to hire women.

Mohammed Qahir Wasafi, the Independent Election Commission official for Kandahar, said that while 42 percent of all those registered in the province were women, several polling centers in the rural areas will not have female officials.

"Security doesn't allow them to go," he said.

Instead, he said, elderly men with long white beards who are known to the village will be selected as polling officials in the women's polling centers.

Tarin blames the Taliban's strength on the lack of development since they were thrown out of power. She says she has been threatened, and her husband worries she will lose her job.

"You name the threat and it has been made against me," she said.

Yet she is determined to keep fighting for women's rights in a country that has few to offer them. She will vote but is deeply disappointed in the government.

"It is only democracy in name," she said. "It does not give women their rights."

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