- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — Jamilah Mujahid, who hopes to win one of 68 seats set aside for women in Afghanistan’s parliament, view’s Sunday’s election as a turning point for her war-ravaged nation.

Among Mrs. Mujahid’s priorities if elected would be education for women, especially those who are behind the learning curve because they grew up under the Taliban regime, which prohibited girls from going to school.

“The Taliban and others are still against women in positions of power because they know that once we get power, we will pursue equal rights for all women,” said Mrs. Mujahid, who is favored to win a seat in Wardak province.

Some female candidates have reported being harassed and intimidated on the campaign circuit, particularly in rural Afghanistan, where restrictions on women are deep-seated and enforced by Taliban supporters and tribal warlords.

A longtime radio and TV personality here, Mrs. Mujahid called Sunday’s scheduled parliamentary and provincial elections “a new beginning for Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan has set aside more than one-quarter of its 249 parliamentary seats exclusively for women.

According to electoral law governing the vote, the top female vote-getters in each of Afghanistan’s provinces will be awarded seats in the Wolesi Jirga, or House of People.

“Even though the law guarantees women a position in the parliament, they are still going to receive support at the polls” said Najiba Sediqi, a program director at a radio station airing shows geared toward Afghan women.

Although the Taliban regime is no longer in power, it remains a viable force in Afghanistan, continuing to clash with coalition and Afghan forces.

So far this year more than 1,000 have been killed in these battles, the most for any year since U.S. forces arrived after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Women’s rights activist Hassina Sherjan agrees with Mrs. Mujahid saying the key to leveling the playing field among men and women is education.

“Many of [the female candidates] seem motivated to create a better society for women at least I hope they are,” said Mrs. Sherjan, whose Kabul-based Aid Afghanistan organization has spent the past 10 years trying to provide supplemental education for women and girls.

“We’re trying to avoid the segregation of women” from the workplace and in other sectors of society, said Mrs. Sherjan, who sees the presence of women in parliament as a step in that direction.

De Afghani Khazi Ghag Radio, which means “the voice of Afghan women,” broadcasts 12 shows six days a week dealing with issues such as abusive spouses, and airs call-in shows and songs featuring Afghan and regional female vocalists — even the Britney Spears tunes.

“The bottom line is we are trying to promote women’s self-esteem after years of oppression” Mrs. Sherjan said.

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