New Internationalist

Weak, cringe-worthy women hiding behind men

Amongst the 40 plus candidates in the Afghan presidential election are two women: Shahla Atta and Frozan Fana. Neither has managed to impress me or other women in Afghanistan. Their clichéd slogans, weak campaigns, non-existent leadership skills and uncharismatic personalities, are cringe worthy. This has done nothing to change the situation of Afghanistan and its women for better.

Like most candidates, both women say they want security, rule of law, human rights, negotiation with the ‘moderate Taliban’ and national unity. Like most weak candidates they are unclear on how they are going to achieve any of these.

Their stance on women’s issues is identical to all other candidates’but they unashamedly engage in petty sexism themselves as they claim that women are better than men or that it’s women’s ‘turn’ to run the country.  They both seem to be part of school of thought that sees women as mere victims and see women’s strength manifesting itself only as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters forgetting women’s own personhood.

Fana and Atta’s unoriginality and lack of initiative has resulted in their failure to form a solid support group of women around them. This is a painful situation in the country where women are craving a leader, someone to inspire them, that could be a role model and source of strength.

Instead, both candidates are campaigning in most predictable way, unable to hide their weakness and strengthening some people’s bigoted beliefs that say that women can’t lead.

Fana campaigns standing behind her dead husband’s ghost. He was a minister in the Karzai Government and was later assassinated. By becoming the president Fana wants to further his vision. Her own personality, achievements and thoughts are largely unknown or maybe just too unremarkable.

Atta, an MP from Kandahar won her seat in the parliament due to the quota system that makes sure that at least two women are brought into the Parliament from each province even when they actually haven’t won enough constituent votes.

Atta was one of the least vocal women in a Parliament which recently passed a law passed forbidding women from leaving their houses without their husband’s permission. The law was later changed mainly due to the pressure from the Afghan human rights activists.

Atta is also hiding behind a man, namely the ex-Afghan Prime Minister Daud Khan, whose reforms Atta wants to continue and whose pictures adorn her campaign posters.

Ignoring their weakness and inability to gain public support, the international media has managed to keep a straight face while suggesting that the only obstacle between these women and the presidential seat is the conservative Afghan society which would never vote for a woman.

However, in doing this they are giving totally wrong view of the Afghan society, particularly women, who I believe are making the right choice this time as they are refusing to follow someone just because they happen to be of the same sex.

These two candidates’ looming defeat will not be a blow to the cause of women in Afghanistan; ending up with candidates like them in the next elections would be our failure! We have another five years until the next elections to harness the female potential in Afghanistan; for a woman with independence of thought, political sophistication and fortitude to decide to stand for election and gain public trust. Even if she failed, she would be a legitimate role model for future generations.

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