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From Adnkronos International, 15 September 2005 by Marco Liconti Kabul - In a country where culture and social conventions make it difficult for women even to go out shopping for food, the female participation in this Sunday's elections is both a gamble and a challenge. Some 580 female candidates - ten percent of the total - are running for office and in the Wolesi Jirqa (parliament) 25 percent of the seats are reserved for female candidates, under the new constitution. Even if women need to be helped to acquire an active role in politics, Emma Bonino - head of the European Union election observation mission to Afghanistan - is sure of their positive impact on society. The country is full of heroic tales of women defying the odds to participate in the elections. Bonino recalls the story of a pregnant women from a small village in the North, near Faisabad, who walked for eight endless days to present her candidacy at the election office. She arrived, miraculously, a few minutes before the deadline. But there are also reports of women candidates being threatened with death if they dare not to wear the traditional burka, and cases of patriarchal Afghans 'suggesting' to their wives and daughters how they should vote. "Women represent the contradictions of Afghan society. On one side there are the artists and the intellectuals; on the other hand many young girls commit suicide each year to escape forced marriage," says Bonino. Contradictions are a good sign, Bonino implies. "When I first came here in 1997, there were none. The oppression was total." Since 2004 presidential campaign, one million seven hundred new voters have enrolled for 18 September elections and 44 percent of them are women. The total figures speak of 12 million Afghans who registered for the elections. 40 percent are women, like the 43 percent of actual voters expected by analysts. Another expert on Afghan women is Barbara Rodey, who works for Usaid - an American government agency for humanitarian aid. She has been working in the country since 1999, heading the agency's programme for women empowerment. Rodey confirms that female conditions have improved in recent years, even though much still needs to be done. In 2005-2006, Usaid is set to invest 222 million dollars in special health and education programmes for women. In the northern Badakshan province, the maternal mortality while giving birth is the world's highest with 6,500 cases per 100,000 women (against a national average of 1,600, which is already very high by world standards). In the rural areas a staggering 90 percent of women are illiterate. But giant leaps forward have been made: the school population in Afghanistan is now 4.8 million children, up from a mere 3% of the Taleban regime, when girls in particular were forced to stay at home. "Afghan women have always been used as a political instrument, to destabilise regimes and build up political consensus ", explains Rodey. "Today the laws exist but in society and family women are still repressed and kept on the sidelines." One of the keys to changing mentalities are the mullahs, the influential religious leaders with great local power. "Many human right organisations work with mullahs, asking them to change their interpretation of the Koran", says Rodey. The burqa is still widely used in the country and is considered by Westerners a symbol of women' repression. "Even if it is used less than during the Taleban regime, the majority of women still wear it, considering it a cultural issue. Other women prefer wearing it because it makes them feel safer, away from men's eyes." "Changes are possible but steps have to be small or, as the Afghans say, 'do it but don't say you are doing it'."

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[ Unione Europea ] [ Italia ] [ Afghanistan ] [ Islam e democrazia ] [ Libertà di religione ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ]

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