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 IEC gender unit, following gender and election series of coordination meetings, held its eighth coordination meeting on May 27, 2014 in training center of Capacity Building Department on public outreach especially increasing women’s participation in election and national media. Participants at this meeting were Dr. Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the IEC Chairman, Mr. Abdul Rahman Hotaki, the IEC Deputy Chairman and Mr. Ziaul Haq Amarkhil, Chie Electoral Officer of the IEC, heads of the IEC departments, civil society organizations, and gender units of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, Ministry of Interior and the IEC partner organizations. This meeting was held to find solutions to April 5 elections’ challenges and receive opinions and suggestions of the IEC partner organizations and share challenges they faced in the field of their activities in the provinces. In general, the purpose of this meeting was to find an appropriate solution for holding the run-off election on June 14, 2014.
At first Dr. Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani delivered a speech and said that the IEC staff (more than 5000) who worked in favor of a special candidate or implicated in acts of fraud have been dismissed from their jobs and replaced by new ones. He also added: In order to prevent fraud in polling stations; each candidate can appoint his agent in the polling stations, based on 35000 credential cards, which the IEC has issued to them. These agents will monitor and prevent fraud in 2540 new established polling stations, that is 1684 male PSs and 856 female PSs in the run-off election (on June 14).
Then, Mr. Abdul Rahman Hotaki stated that the IEC constantly strives to take measures to prevent the first round’s deficiencies and problems from being repeated in the second round, and to fill the gaps. He also reported of printing 15 million ballot papers and increasing 2752 PSs in all 34 provinces of the country.
Mr. Ziaul Haq Amarkhil appreciated increase of women’s participation to 36% despite the security problems and threats in insecure provinces of the country. He addressed the partner organizations and said, “We should attempt to retain this percentage and make further attempts to increase the percentage up to 50% in the second round.” He also asked the partner media organizations to add public outreach programs to their activities.
Thus, the gender unit and the organizations involved in election, presented their presentations with reference to public outreach activities on women, employing female staff in 2014 first round’s election and their plans for holding the run-off election( on June 14) and in this regard, suggestions and comments were put forward.
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.
Date: 19 January, 2014
Location: IEC Provincial Offices in 34 provinces
IEC, Gender unit will conduct Election and Gender coordination meeting according to plans by the help of provincial offices for persuasion and increase of women participation in election in 34 provinces, in which more than 50 representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations, such as women affairs’ directorates, police headquarters, governor offices, education directorates, rural development directorates and other election related organizations will participate.
The purpose of conducting these meetings is to increase women participation in election as voters, candidates, employees and observers. In addition, to get information about security and body searching issues of women voters and observers. According to view of interior ministry and suggestion of IEC, 13000 female body searchers will be trained and hired in voting stations all over the country in order to help the security organizations in keeping security and the women could go to polling stations securely to vote for their proper candidate.
IEC Gender Unit provides trainings for increasing women participation in election process and to find out solution for challenges against women, awareness about election operational plan and for persuasion of women. For this purpose, 34 active women are hired all over the country to implement the development plan.
Second stage of administration, management and election information training workshop was conducted for gender officers from 25 Jan up to 28 Jan 2014 in IEC Compound. In this training workshop the following issues were taught: IEC gender unit activities during last few months & future plans, candidate registration process and gender unit activities, field operation department activities, voting and vote counting regulation, information about body searchers in female polling stations and security guards for female candidates, activity procedure of public outreach department and practical implementation of voting process, information about employment process and role of provincial gender officers, administration, management skills and basics of management, efficiency and innovation, meeting conducting skills, teasing, its types and reasons, respect and coordination in administration and society, conflicts and its types, conflict levels, reasons and solutions of conflicts, challenges in conflict solution, understanding, active listening, method of questioning, analyzing and report writing (Types of reports, purpose and properties of a report).