The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is committed to promoting gender equality in the area of elections in line with the international human rights instruments that Afghanistan has signed, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) ratified in 2003. The IEC is particularly concerned with increasing female participation in the electoral processes as voters, candidates, electoral administrators, and observers. In order to achieve greater participation of women in the electoral processes, the IEC established a dedicated body within IEC structure for gender mainstreaming work. Accordingly, the Gender Unit came into existence in May 2009, and has been engaged in promoting female participation in electoral processes.
In view of the upcoming elections in 2014, the IEC Gender Unit has been actively involved in ensuring that gender is taken into consideration in all of IEC’s electoral work. To this effect, a gender strategy for promoting increased women’s participation in the electoral process has been conceived by the Unit, with an immediate focus on electoral operations for the 2014 elections, and is in line with the stated objectives of the IEC five-year plan (2012-2016). In addition to elaborating the 2014 electoral operations strategy, this strategy also incorporates the IEC’s voter registration-specific (VR) operational plan as well as the electoral operational plan. This strategy is consistent with the VR regulations approved by IEC on 22nd of January 2013, and the current electoral laws (2010).
In implementing the gender activities for the operational period this year, the Unit will work together internally with all IEC Departments, including the Gender Focal Point within the IEC Public Outreach Department. In terms of external cooperation, joint coordination efforts will be further explored with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and with the Ministry of Haj (in coordination with the IEC External Relations Department) among other stakeholders.
In preparation for the elections, the IEC has undertaken strategies to encourage female voters to register, as well as to increase the female staff at IEC headquarters and provinces to actually conduct voter registration. The IEC will continue to involve influential leaders, including Mullahs and women’s networks, to create awareness on the importance of women’s electoral participation. The public outreach work of IEC will not only develop targeted messages for female voters, but will also ensure that gender is taken into account in all of the messaging in order to promote a gender responsive voter education approach. This is intended to promote inclusiveness and transparency in the electoral processes, and to safeguard the fundamental right to vote for all eligible women voters.
Similarly, with regards to IEC staffing, efforts are being put into place to ensure women’s active role in the election administration structures, including: female trainers; female voter educators; and voter registration and polling staff. The electoral process will be open to observers, and the IEC underscores the importance of including female observers in gender balanced observation teams. One important example of the need for a specific focus on gender in the electoral process is the fact that the IEC has provided female voters with culture sensitive options in regard to the issue of photos on voter registration cards. While the IEC is not insisting on female photo IDs, it does stress that as a measure to minimize fraud, IEC encourages female voters to have a picture in their cards when possible.
The gender related activities planned by the IEC with a specific VR focus include:
As religious leaders, Mullahs have an especially influential role in the lives of Afghan men and women, and therefore are an important stakeholder in promoting democratic elections. In this context, the IEC has planned to involve Mullahs to speak to women voters in seminars, and men in Mosques in support of female voters in the electoral process. This will require consultations with Mullahs to inform them on the topic of ‘women’s electoral participation.’ Therefore, a coordination meeting will be organised with the Ministry of Haj (MOH) and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, in order to mobilize trained individuals for the Mullah consultations.
Consultations with Mullahs in all districts (17) of Kabul and Provinces (33) have been planned by the IEC Gender Unit (GU). The consultations will permit gender trainers from MOWA and MOH to offer presentations for Mullahs in order to sensitize them as to the importance of women’s participation in electoral processes, and to provide them with an issue brief / talking points to underscore the fundamental necessity to ensure the voting rights of women. This will also emphasize the importance of men’s overall support to, and constructive approach, in support of women’s right to participate. The Mullahs who attend the consultations will be invited to speak to women in a separate consultation organized for women only. Mullahs will also be encouraged to speak to men in mosques on these issues. The IEC Gender Unit will travel to provinces to monitor the implementation of the activities in the provinces.
Following the consultations with Mullahs, consultations will be organized in each district of Kabul, and all Provinces with women. Mullahs who attended the consultations will be invited to speak in the meetings on the importance of women’s participation in electoral processes focusing on voter registration and polling.
An information leaflet on VR and gender will be developed to provide information on i) importance of women’s participation in electoral processes with focus on VR ii) Special arrangements made for women voters to register. The leaflet will be developed both in Dari and Pashto, and shared with public outreach department for inputs. The leaflet will be targeted at literate female voters and distributed in consultations and seminars and through NGO networks.
A ‘Gender and Elections group’ comprising of relevant stakeholders working on women’s political and electoral participation will be established by the IEC with an objective to raise and discuss gender-related electoral issues with the group. Through this platform, the IEC envisages to seek and receive support from the organizations in addressing the issues that concerns the IEC and the stakeholders. The meeting will be led by the IEC, and will meet regularly, at least once a month.
Training for electoral officials will be organized by the IEC Training and Capacity Building Department at headquarters and provincial level. The training is scheduled to commence in May for voter registration, and will be conducted from 4-5 days starting with the training of trainers (ToT) at the headquarters. As gender responsive services are critical to promoting greater access for women to services, a gender session will be included in the trainings for electoral staff. This session will basically inform the staff on adopting gender responsive service delivery approach in their specific areas of work. The Gender Unit will prepare training content, and will make presentations at the training of trainers (ToT) at headquarters level. The training content will be shared with trainers for conducting gender sessions in provincial and district level trainings. The training strategy incorporated in the voter registration operational plan has emphasized that gender balance will be taken into account while hiring trainers, and if required, separate trainings could be organised for female field staff.
As distinct from the IEC Gender Unit, the Gender Focal Point in the Public Outreach Department (POD) is responsible for ensuring that outreach activities planned by POD take a gender perspective into account. This is crucial as women in Afghanistan face not only cultural barriers to electoral/political participation, but also suffer from a real information deficit with regards to elections. It is therefore essential for IEC to develop targeted messages and channels of delivery focused specifically on women voters. Gender considerations will also be incorporated in the overall messaging for public outreach, promoting gender awareness relating to electoral processes.
The public outreach strategy incorporated in the Voter Registration-specific Operational Plan to be implemented starting 15 May, 2013 in preparation for the commencement of the “top-up” VR exercise commencing on 26 May at provincial level (phase 1) and at district level around 25 June (phase 2) highlights the following:
The Gender Unit will work with External Relations in ensuring that gender relevant information/presentations are shared with various stakeholders in structured stakeholder consultations/meetings organised by the department, where relevant. With regard to the department’s work with observers, efforts will be made to emphasize and promote gender balance among observers, and observation of all stages of the electoral process (including VR) from a gender perspective shall be encouraged by IEC through effective and inclusive accreditation procedures.
Registration and polling centers will have a separate female station staffed with female officers. Such arrangements are critical to improving access to electoral participation for female voters. The centers would be established in locations that would increase women’s physical access to centers.
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