Afghanistan held parliamentary elections on October 20 amid very challenging circumstances. Despite significant voter turnout in several provinces, local officials and police were unable to realize a fully credible and peaceful election. Close to 200 attacks took place on Election Day, and many voters were forced to either wait for extended periods because of technical and organizational challenges, or return home without casting their vote. The increased engagement of women in the election process presents one of the few bright spots.

Afghan Women Defy Violence and Vote

In a fragile, war-torn Afghanistan, elections present a perfect target for violent extremist groups to undercut any expectation that a democratically elected government will offer tangible improvements. As expected, the election was tainted by attacks against police, polling stations, campaign events and voters, despite the deployment of 70,000 Afghan security forces to ensure election security.

In the weeks before Election Day, seven attacks killed approximately 55 people, mostly at election events, like campaign meetings. The police and Interior Ministry officials reported a total of 111 causalities on Election Day; at least 100 of those killed and wounded were civilians. These security risks were compounded by operation errors, which in many cases prevented Afghan citizens from voting (as detailed by USIP’s Scott Worden).

Women’s Increased Participation

One of the few bright spots of the vote was the increased engagement by women, both as candidates, and as voters. Similar to many other conflict environments or fragile democracies, Afghan women face a disproportionately high risk of election violence, in the form of threats, kidnappings, or killings. A week before the election, a blast at an election rally of a female candidate killed 22 people in northeastern Takhar province. In a pre-election assessment, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems identified financial discrimination, online harassment, and the pressure to commit fraud as other important risks women face during the election campaign.

Despite all the challenges, an unprecedented 417 female candidates, accounting for 16 percent of all candidates, contested seats in the lower house of Parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, representing a 3 percent increase from 2010 (338 women out of 2,541 candidates), and a 4 percent increase from 2005 (323 out of 2,709 candidates). Beyond the explicit threat of insurgent groups to women candidates, women voters—who made up 34% of registered voters this election—also face significant physical and cultural barriers to voting.

The increased participation of women in the electoral process presents an important step in peacebuilding efforts. Afghan women have proven that when provided with the necessary legal protection as equal citizens they overcome the personal and societal challenges they face every day.

Related Publications

U.S. to Move Afghanistan’s Frozen Central Bank Reserves to New Swiss Fund

U.S. to Move Afghanistan’s Frozen Central Bank Reserves to New Swiss Fund

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

For almost seven months, Afghan central bank reserves frozen by the United States and set aside to somehow help the Afghan people, have sat, immobilized. Now those funds — $3.5 billion — are at long last on the move. On September 14, the U.S. and Swiss governments unveiled the “Fund for the Afghan People” as a Geneva-based foundation with its account at the Bank for International Settlements. The Fund will preserve, protect and selectively disburse this money. With this major policy step accomplished, new questions arise: What do these developments mean, what are realistic expectations for the reserves, and what needs to happen next?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Why Was a Negotiated Peace Always Out of Reach in Afghanistan?

Why Was a Negotiated Peace Always Out of Reach in Afghanistan?

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

By: Steve Brooking

August 30, 2022, marks the one-year anniversary of the last US troops leaving Afghanistan. During America’s 20-year military intervention, there were several opportunities to negotiate peace among the Taliban, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the United States—but these opportunities were missed, went unrecognized, or were deliberately spurned by one or more of the parties. In this important history, Steve Brooking, the first British official sent into Afghanistan after 9/11, examines why the three parties were unable or unwilling to reach a negotiated settlement.

Type: Peaceworks

Peace Processes

View All Publications