Women’s rights in Afghanistan take yet another hit, as conservative male parliamentarians secretly remove a legal requirement that states women make up at least a quarter of all provincial elections.
According to Reuters, the change took place in mid-May but was only discovered by women parliamentarians a few days ago.
Activists said it could also reduce the number of women serving in parliament’s upper house, as most women are elected there via their role as elected provincial officials.
“In negotiations you don’t gain anything unless you also give something up,” said prominent women’s rights activist and MP Farkhunda Naderi.
The action has sparked fears among women’s rights activists that President Hamid Karzai’s government is increasingly willing to trade away their hard fought gains to placate the Taliban as part of attempts to coax them to the peace table.
Women entered Afghanistan’s male-only political arena in 2001 soon after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by a U.S. led invasion.
At least a quarter of the seats in some 400 districts and 34 provincial councils had been set aside for women.
Karzai appointed 17 out of 28 women in the upper house, the remaining 11 must be chosen from among women sitting on district and provincial councils, but those positions are now under a cloud.
On May 22, the change was approved by parliament’s lower house, the Wolesi Jirga.
“(They) removed it without informing us. We trusted that the law we signed off on was the same as previous drafts,” said parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.
The law still needs approval from the upper house and Karzai before being passed into law.
Critics of the change told Reuters its removal will not only affect women’s ability to serve in the upper house, but also do away with more than 100 seats in local government bodies nationwide that were previously guaranteed to women.
“Women are not in the position to win votes in this country based on popular vote alone, this amendment is worrisome they’ll lose their voice,” said Noor Mohammad, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.
Conservative male parliamentarians backing the change said the concept of granting rights based on their gender was unconstitutional.
“It’s undemocratic to grant a seat to a woman even though a man had more votes, simply because the law favors her,” said Qazi Nasir Ahmad Hanafi, head of the legislative commission.
This story was originally published by Reuters.
(Edited by Gillian Felix)