When Afghanistan underwent an election in April, some voters thought they might go to the polls in towns and villages where women could participate in the campaign. Not many women showed up.
“Not many women in the village and some females in the city come to vote,” said Zarifa, a 55-year-old student who lives in Jawzjan province, an area once occupied by the Taliban. “They don’t feel safe.”
In the town of Tayab, a grim landscape of dirt roads and cavernous mud houses surrounding a dun-colored lake and usually too scared to leave the house or interact with strangers, Najma, who drove a generator-driven water truck in the city during the day and caught rides on trucks to go to the bank and exchange money, had planned to vote that day.
But, she said, there was no one to look after her voting machine and her registration booklet, making it impractical to register. “The Taliban have banned women from the voting booths,” she said.
A few miles away in Faizabad, which is the capital of the northern province of Baghlan, Nadia, a fashion design student who said she was 19, said that her mother, Bibi, a 70-year-old woman who used a walker and depended on handicapped friends to work for her, did not even have voter identification.
“It’s dangerous for women to go out and vote,” Nadia said. “But it’s our duty to vote, or else who will vote for us?”
In June, Jawzjan county’s governor, Sibghatullah Jalala, said he expected around 1.5 million women would take part in the election, which was held for the first time in Afghanistan, marking the end of the country’s civil war.
“I congratulate each and every woman of this nation,” he said. “They have a strong moral power to decide the fate of this nation.”
Around New York City, half a million people — more than half the registered voters — didn’t bother voting in that April election. That represents about 0.27 percent of registered voters in a city that has almost 8 million residents, including about 200,000 women.
In Jawzjan, the level of participation was actually higher than other cities and provinces in this central area of Afghanistan, according to Pajhwok, a group that monitors elections in Afghanistan. In Tajikistan, a region the Taliban had controlled until 2001, only about 0.03 percent of registered voters took part in the elections.
Part of the hesitation among women and men in this central Afghan province to vote appears to be due to the restrictions of their society. Many women still don’t leave their homes in Afghanistan.
“In some parts of Afghanistan, there are relatively large numbers of women who do not allow themselves to leave the house for fear of being killed,” said Jalil Asad, a spokesman for the provincial council. “They don’t risk their life to go to the polling stations.”
Nadia said her mother was afraid to leave her house. “Only men have made it possible for women to vote,” she said.
Even the men in the house sometimes didn’t vote. One man, who provided only his first name, Abdul, said he hadn’t voted because he had not registered. “We are OK, but we will not vote,” he said.