Steps Taken for Women to Vote
In Paktia Province, Samkani District, a place that often suffers security incidents, is located on the border with Pakistan. It is challenging for both men and women to take part in political processes and it is even not feasible for girls to attend school, for women to participate in elections or for them to even observe election procedure.
Malik Dad Mohammad, who lives in Nargasi Village in Samkani District, made it possible for women to go to polling stations and cast their ballots in the parliamentary election on October 20, 2018. Dad Mohammad is a member of the Maliks’ Shura in his village and was identified by WADAN as someone who would assist in the election observation process; he came to Kabul in September and participated in election observation training conducted by WADAN. Following that he held numerous coordination meetings in Paktia with Mullahs and the Provincial Peace Council prior to the 2018 election.
“Although, the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) hired female staff for women’s polling stations, in a conservative community such as Nargasi Village, it is culturally challenging for women to take part in elections. In our village, not one woman would dare to go out of her home to take part in the political process.” Malik Dad Mohammad said during the WADAN training. Lack of female staff, a threatening environment and uncertainty about the safety of the locations of polling stations were the main reasons hindering participation in the election. Prior to the election, Malik Dad Mohammad, accompanied by his Maliks’ Shura conducted individual meetings with families and held many public awareness activities in his village to encourage participation in the political process, particularly in elections. He said, “We drafted Mullahs and other Maliks and asked them to use their influence and make people aware of their right to vote; we coordinated with Mullahs on the village level to convey this message from an Islamic point of view at mosques on Friday Juma prayers when hundreds of people gather for worship.”
Malik Dad Mohammad coordinated with IEC to open an entrance gate designated for women’s use only and hired female staff for the polling station so women would be encouraged to vote. “In our village we first expected that no election would take place, but following the public awareness activities and the Mullahs’ pulpit campaigns, a large number of eligible voters, male and female, came to vote. They also all supported and assisted Maliks and the observers’ work,” Malik Dad Mohammad said.
A Mullahs’ House-to-House Visit
Mastoora is a 50-year-old woman who lives in Chapa Dara, a mountainous district of Kunar Province. Voting in in the 2018 parliamentary election was the first time she ever had experienced casting her ballot. She learned about the importance of elections and her responsibility as a citizen to vote from listening to advice from Mullahs and Maliks. Her family was motivated to vote by the Malik in her village.
Mohammad Ismail Tariq, a Mullah who is also a Malik, travelled to Kabul in early April 2019 to narrate his story and relate his achievements to WADAN and declared that he could convince other Mullahs and families to take part in the elections. He said, “We conducted meetings with the Ulema Council and Hajj Affairs Department in the Kunar Province and convinced them to conduct public awareness activities. As the Mullah of my village, I participated in meetings that helped to increase people’s participation in election activities. I identified those families that avoided taking part in the elections and did not allow their women to vote and I realized that it was the Mullah’s responsibility to convince those people of their responsibility to their community, so I made house-to-house visits and convinced those who were initially not willing to go to vote on Election Day.”
Mohammad Ismail Tariq erased other barriers that were hindering women’s participation by providing a safe polling center and hiring female staff in coordination with IEC and the Afghan security forces. Mastoora was one of those women who he convinced to take part. She said, “Since Islam gave us the right and we have a safe environment and a women’s polling station, I believe it is the responsibility of every single woman to vote, I was happy to exercise this right for the first time in my life.”
Election to Election, Maliks Prevent Fraud in Shiek Misri Village
At the Nazanin Jabar Khail High School polling center located in Shiekh Misri Village in Surkhroad District, the IEC, ECC staff members and Hamid Afghan’s agents were observed by Maliks and Mullahs to be illegally working in favor of Hamid Afghan, a candidate for parliament from Nangarhar Province. In the October 20, 2018 election, the Maliks’ Shura and NMA members were able to prevent fraudulent activity by reporting his Election Day fraud to the IEC and ECC Regional Offices, the Surkhroad District Police Department and the district government office.
Mullah Rahmatullah, an NMA Member who lives in in Shiekh Misri Refugees Camp stated, “Maliks were observing the elections process on Election Day, October 20, 2018 and they found that local IEC and ECC staff, and some agents sent by the candidate Hamid Afghan were bribing voters, especially women. Also, we noticed that the ECC staff members were ripping up all the complaint forms submitted against Hamid Afghan. In addition, Maliks noticed that one person had voted six times at one polling center. As a result, at the end of Election Day, we did not allow the IEC staff to enter the polling center to count ballots. We immediately reported the issue to the police department who then moved all the ballot boxes to the district government office. We then reported to the IEC regional office who invalidated all the votes cast for Hamid Afghan.”
Mullah Rahmatullah also stated that this was not the first time they prevented attempted fraud at the same polling center; in the 2014 elections they witnessed fraudulent activities and agents’ interference there. At that time women were paid to cast their ballots in favor of Sayed Numan, a Provincial Council candidate, but NMA members reported that irregularity to the district government’s office and also the police department. In 2014, as in 2018 with Hamid Afghan, their civically responsible action helped prevent fraud; all the ballots in favor of Sayed Numan were invalidated. This is one example, but in many remote locations it is only the vigilance of traditional leadership who can bridge the security gap and inform district and regional offices about Election Day fraud attempts at the village level.