Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Women embrace new freedom in Bamiyan

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan : The five men traveled three hours across rugged Afghan terrain to take their troubles to the provincial governor. Their problem: A local warlord was blocking a crucial irrigation project; no bribe, no water. After listening patiently to their story, the governor agreed to send police to the remote district to deal with the local commander and his armed thugs. "I will solve the problem," the governor said. "We'll have to do it by force."
The extortionist warlord is all too typical in Afghanistan. The decisive governor, who declined to name the offender to avoid further trouble, is anything but. Habiba Sarabi is the first woman to run a province in Afghan history.
Perhaps more than anywhere else in Afghanistan, women in Bamiyan province are leaping into the political space created by the U.S.-led overthrow of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban militia four years ago. They are more likely to run for office and to vote than other Afghan women.
Sixteen women will be on ballots in Bamiyan province Sunday, when voters choose candidates for the provincial council and the lower house of the Afghan National Assembly, known as the Wolesi Jirga. Elsewhere, some provinces couldn't field enough female candidates to fill the seats reserved for them.
In Bamiyan, 48% of registered voters are women, who are a majority in some districts. Nationwide, women are less than 42% of voters.The enthusiasm with which Bamiyan women embrace politics reflects the relatively moderate brand of Islam that predominates in the remote province, best known for the 1,500-year-old giant Buddha statues the Taliban destroyed in March 2001...


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