New Assessment on Violence Against Women in Elections in Afghanistan

Publication Date: 
29 Apr 2019

Publication Type:

Author(s): 
Sarah Bibler and Naila Rafique

On October 20, 2018, Afghanistan held its long-delayed national parliamentary (Wolesi Jirga) elections. Overall, the election demonstrated how combined factors of insecurity and political instability, widespread impunity for and high rates of violence against women, and negative perceptions about women’s rights have gender-specific effects on Afghan women’s full and equal electoral participation. As Afghanistan prepares for a presidential election in September 2019, strategic efforts are urgently needed to better ensure that women’s rights to participate as electoral and political decision-makers are safeguarded and bolstered. Recognizing this need, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) worked with the Afghan Women’s Network to conduct a field-based violence against women in elections (VAWE) assessment that uncovers the specific ways that Afghan women experienced violence throughout the 2018 parliamentary elections, as well as mitigation strategies needed to reduce and prevent electoral violence against women. Carried out with support from Global Affairs Canada, the assessment includes data from in-person focus groups, individual interviews and informational surveys that, taken together, reached electoral stakeholders across all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

The VAWE assessment uncovers several key trends in electoral violence against Afghan women, including that:

  • Social media is effectively and increasingly used to amplify and disseminate attacks against women and their families to national audiences;
  • High rates of sexual harassment against women in politics perpetuate the negative perception that women politicians are immoral;
  • There are widespread concerns that women’s exclusion from national and international dialogues with the Taliban will undermine women’s rights and democratic progress in Afghanistan; and
  • Harassment of women candidates contributes to families’ reticence to support women family members contesting for office.
Cover of "Violence Against Women in Elections in Afghanistan: An IFES Assessment"

Violence Against Women in Elections in Afghanistan: An IFES Assessment

While the assessment finds significant obstacles to achieving women’s full and equal political participation, there are windows of opportunity to consider as well. These include a legal framework and government policies that protect women’s electoral rights and seek to address women’s safety and security, as well as an existing network of women’s rights groups and advocates who have had notable successes working together to advance legal reforms. Highlighting these and other windows of opportunities, the assessment concludes with practical recommendations for key stakeholders that could help mitigate VAWE and take meaningful steps toward advancing Afghan women’s full and equal political participation.

Violence Against Women in Elections in Afghanistan: An IFES Assessment was made possible by the support of the Canadian people through Global Affairs Canada (GAC). The contents are the sole responsibility of IFES and do not necessarily reflect the views of GAC or the Canadian Government. Read this Q&A with Ambassador David Metcalfe to learn more about Canada’s commitment to inclusive governance in Afghanistan.