Women first entered the Afghan parliament 50 years ago, during the so-called “decade of democracy” that began in 1964 under the reign of Mohammad Zahir Shah, and laid the groundwork for democracy. modern regime of the country. Among the 216 members of the former king’s parliament, there were only four women, but the country’s prospects for gender equality and freedom in general were bright.
However, a peaceful coup led ten years later by Zahir Shah’s cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan and the bloody Sowr revolution, also known as the April coup, led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan in 1978 , kept that promise. an abrupt end, with the parliamentary monarchy.
For about fifteen years, the doors of Parliament were closed to everyone. In subsequent governments, amid cultural and religious turmoil, civil war and a 15-year period of Taliban rule, they remained closed, but only to women.
It was only after the fall of the radical group in 2001 that an agreement was signed at the Bonn Conference (Germany) to entrust the drafting of a new Constitution – the eighth – to the Constitutional Commission, made up of of 35 members. The draft stipulated in article 22 that Afghan citizens, men and women, had the same rights and responsibilities under the law.
The proposal also aimed to guarantee the rights of women, suppressed by the Taliban, often depriving them of access to basic health care and education.
Mohammad Ashraf Rasoli, now senior adviser to the Afghan Minister of Justice, was a member of the committee at the time. He remembers the lively debate around this article during the examination of the text in Parliament. “This has caused a lot of controversy because there are different interpretations of Islam in this regard,” he said. The discussion lasted for several days. “Finally, it was decided that Afghan citizens, men and women, have fundamental rights and duties under the law. Women should have the same rights because they are human beings.
The new Constitution of 2005 provided for a quota of parliamentary seats for women in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. “There has been a lot of discussion on the subject. Everyone felt that since the women in our society had suffered so much, a certain part of the seats should be reserved for them.
The measure has helped Afghan women play a role in oversight and legislative processes, and to some extent, it paves the way for gender equality in the country. Today, the law guarantees women two seats for each province in the House – representing a 27% share of the total, according to legal expert Waheed Farzayi – or one seat if the province is only entitled to two or three seats.
Regardless of this quota, which guarantees a minimum participation of women, they can occupy all the seats in a province if they win the election with 73% of the votes or more.
In the last legislative elections, in 2018, some women obtained more votes than men. Today, they hold 69 seats out of the 249 in the Chamber of Deputies, or 27.7%. Of the 102 Senate seats, 34 are appointed by the country’s president, and half of them are reserved for women.
This is more than most countries in the region and even more developed countries, according to the World Bank: 6% in Iran, 20% in Pakistan, 25% in China, 24% in Tajikistan, 25% in Turkmenistan and 32 % In Uzbekistan. Only the latter has a higher percentage of women parliamentarians than Afghanistan.
However, some say they believe that without these quotas few women would run in parliamentary elections, due to the conservative nature of Afghan society and women’s lack of awareness of their rights.
“Special seats have advantages and disadvantages,” says representative Shinkai Karukhil. “The advantage is that it is an opportunity for women to participate in politics and gain experience. The downside is that, of course, women in conflict may not be able to represent women’s rights activists and may not feel responsible for these rights.
Several activists also say that while giving women a special place in parliament is one of the greatest achievements of Afghans over the past two decades, many challenges remain to ensure gender equality and adequate representation. .
“Unfortunately, there are still questions about voting for women candidates,” says Mari Akrami, director of the Afghan Women’s Network. “And the fact that a lot of people don’t vote for women is having an impact on their rights across the country.”
Rights that have taken decades to materialize, such as a 27% participation of women in parliament, which she says is threatened by the current pace of negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
This report is published as part of the “Towards Equality” project, an international and collaborative initiative that brings together 15 media to present the challenges and solutions to achieve gender equality.