Published on 03 Aug 2010 at 03:30
By Rohollah Rahimi – Balkh
MAZAR-E-SHARIF – Color and faces are everywhere: the city of Mazar-e-Sharif is abundantly adorned with candidates’ posters and billboards, as the parliamentary election campaign reaches its most critical stage in advance of the September 18 poll.
But some of the women candidates for Parliament complain they are hampered by security problems, keeping them from effectively mounting their campaigns.
There are 84 candidates, including 16 women, running for the 11 seats allocated to Balkh province.
Balkh has traditionally been one of the safest provinces in Northern Afghanistan; but the security situation has deteriorated, particularly during last year’s presidential and provincial council elections. Candidates for the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of Parliament, are now worried about campaigning in some areas; women face even greater challenges.
Sarah Mazari, a lawyer who is now running for Parliament, links the growing insecurity to the campaign.
“Security problems have increased since the start of the election campaign,” she said. Mazari does not place the responsibility solely on the Taliban or other armed opposition groups; she attributes the difficulty to certain individuals who are trying to protect their personal interests.
“Women candidates in particular face security issues as well as traditional barriers,” she said. “Women candidates are not provided with bodyguards, and feel secure only inside the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.”
Gul Maki Siawash, an activist for the rights of the disabled, agreed.
Disabled rights activist and Wolesi Jirga candidate, Gul Maki Siawoosh, agrees. “The government must provide security for the candidates,” she said.
Siawoosh said that the security situation in Mazar-e-Sharif was satisfactory, but added that the government would not let the women campaign in the more insecure districts of the province.
The Balkh office of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) is committed to holding the elections on schedule.
“The city is secure and the IEC has already prepared for the election,” said Ezatullah Aman, head of the IEC’s sub-office in Balkh. “There is no real concern over the elections in the province. We have close cooperation with the security authorities and they have promised to provide full security for the elections.”
Aman confirmed, however, that there were issues regarding security, especially for female candidates.
“Some women candidates shared their concerns over the security situation and the IEC has reported this to the security authorities,” he concluded.
Balkh security authorities have given top priority to the providing security for the elections, says Balkh Police Chief Esmatullah Alizai.
“There are no real security problems in Balkh,” he said. “Nevertheless, we are regularly meeting with the candidates to see if they have any problems. We promise to ensure candidates’ security but it is difficult for the police to assign bodyguards for all of the candidates.
The security authorities and the IEC may be confident about the security situation in the province, but women candidates still cannot go to a number of districts to run their campaigns.
“We have not seen any women yet to come to the district to campaign,” said Ghulam Ali, a resident of Sholgar district.
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