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Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 11:04 UK

Afghan women strive to be heard

By Zarghuna Kargar
BBC Persian and Pahsto

Protesters against Afghanistan's new marriage laws for the Shia community
Women in Afghanistan are struggling to assert their rights

With only a few days left until nationwide elections, posters of presidential candidates can be seen nearly everywhere in the major cities of Afghanistan.

Among the pictures of the white-bearded men, suited and dressed in traditional attire, are pictures of two women candidates.

In a country where Islam and tradition plays a huge part, some people think of these pictures as a crime against Islam.

Out of the 38 remaining presidential candidates two are female, and out of more than 3,000 provincial council candidates, 328 are women.

'Neglected'

Frozan Fana, one of the presidential candidates, says that she wants to provide more jobs for women if she is elected. She has defended herself against allegations made by conservatives that her photos should not be used as part of her campaign.

Frozan Fana
Frozan Fana is a champion of better rights for women

Shahala Atta, the other presidential candidate, has portrayed herself as a champion of womens' rights. Her campaign slogan is "women make up half of of society". She says that she wants to start work immediately on making life better for this "neglected 50% of the country".

The female candidates in this campaign argue that they face big disadvantages. Their posters are being torn down, they suffer abuse and even fear for their safety simply because of their gender.

They told the BBC that campaigning in a society like Afghanistan is dangerous to themselves and those around them.

Most of the women who have put their names forward for nomination have done so in order to help rebuild their country and help build a new name for women across the country.

Toorpikai Rasooly, from the Kunar province in east Afghanistan, is one of those standing in the provincial elections.

"I want to help poor people and defend the rights of my sisters. My area is very secluded in the mountainous region and women face many problems, from violence in their homes to problems with their health," she says.

War widows

Having won a seat in the last election Toorpikai is seeking a second term. Her commitment is still strong despite the problems she faces against her campaign.

Women in Afghanistan
Afghan women live in one of the most conservative countries in the world

In another case in Kabul a young single woman has nominated herself for a seat on the provincial council. She says her main goal is to provide work for war widows.

After 30 years of war Afghanistan is left with large numbers of women who have lost their husbands to war and are left to raise children on their own.

Many women have stated their desire to stand for election but are not allowed to do so. Their fathers or husbands have banned them, citing its "inappropriateness for a woman".

It is mainly men who say it is against the culture and tradition of Afghanistan to display photos of women in public.

'Better future'

"In my opinion photos of women candidates on walls everywhere is not good, because Afghanistan is a Muslim country. This is an issue of honour for us," Assadullah, a resident of Kabul says.

Others are equally forthright.

Shahala Atta
Shahala Atta says that women comprise the forgotten half of society

"In Islam woman cannot rule, but they can participate in councils," one man says. "But about their posters I want to say that this is shameful for us. I am a Muslim and I am an Afghan and my culture doesn't allow me to accept this."

However there are some men who think men and women have the same right to vote, to nominate and to campaign.

Mohammad Jan from Kabul says: "I think it is a good thing. For me the women are the same as my mother and sisters, they want to help and work for a better future.

"I think they have every right to put their photos up anywhere in the country to compete for a seat in the election."

Storai, a young Afghan woman, argues that women who have put up their pictures for the campaign have done so in accordance with Islamic law.

But it is still a big step for those who do so and another sign of what some argue is the pitifully slow progress being made in this country as it tries to move forward.



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