Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Afghanistan: Increasing Women Political Representation as a National Priority

The past two decades have witnessed an impressive rise in women’s political representation around the world. During this period, the global average in the share of women in national parliaments doubled, and all regions made substantial progress towards the goal of 30 percent women’s representation in decision making.
While some countries have made giant strides in women’s political representation, Afghanistan has achieved very little progress.  Considering that women’s role in the country’s socio-economic and cultural landscape appears to be increasing; and it is expected that the increasing role of women in the society would translate to greater inclusion of women in the political process. Social scholars have identified four major socio-economic and cultural changes with potentials to positively transform women’s political representation in developing countries.
The first is the growing “voice” and rising profile of women in the economy, community work and various spheres of professional and public engagements. The second is the gradual but steady withering of cultural restrictions on the perception of women in public affairs since the last three decades. The third is the rapid expansion in the work of activist women organizations supporting increased participation of women in politics and a resultant rise in the number of women joining politics and standing for elections. While the fourth is the increasing tendency of women to take up economic roles in the family previously reserved for men and to question the myth of the “male as-bread winner” in many middle and low income families. 
Generally, Afghanistan has a policy environment that would appear to support gender equity. Firstly, the country is a signatory to most of the international conventions on gender equality and women empowerment. Secondly, successive governments in the country have established a vibrant institutional structure for the development and implementation of gender policies, coordinated by the Ministry of Women Affairs. Thirdly, there seems to be a widespread appreciation of gender issues as both government and non-governmental organizations emphasize gender mainstreaming in their activities.
Although the prospect for increased representation of Afghan women in political leadership appear strong, a look at the data on the political representation of women in Afghanistan indicates that gender gains of the last decade have not reflected in the level of women’s representation in political leadership.
The question, then, is why does the gender gap in political representation continue to exist even when the socio-economic and cultural landscape in Afghanistan favors greater political representation of women?
Social scholars argue that slow progress with women’s political representation in Afghanistan is intimately connected with the diagnosis of the problem - how the problem
of women’s underrepresentation is perceived and understood as well as the strategies seen, strictly, as a question of women’s lack of resources. Discussion of barriers to women’s participation in politics focuses largely on issues that diminish women’s political resources and undermine their capacity to engage in the politics. These issues include traditional values and norms, community expectations, conservative family upbringing, lack of good education, lack of work or professional experience, structural and physical violence against women, and discriminatory roles assigned to women in the political parties.
Efforts to address women’s political underrepresentation in Afghanistan have typically focused on expanding women’s political resources by, among other things, educating women, mentoring them, expanding their networks, and providing them with financial assistance. As experience has shown, these efforts have produced marginal results and incremental change. Therefore, to address women’s political underrepresentation in Afghanistan, the efforts shall be focused on increasing the representation of women at the leadership level; they shall be at the policy making level. Thus, supporting women candidates for the Afghan National Parliament election is one of the political means that can serve to advance women political representation in the country.