'Afghan Men Were Cheering for a Female Candidate...'

"Afghan Men were cheering for a female candidate.... I knew the Afghan people had won. The Taliban could force them inside no longer." -- Lynsey Addario, a photographer and contributor to Time Magazine

Forty years ago, when I drove through Afghanistan in a little white VW bug, little did I know how long it would take Afghanistan -- a jewel of a country with its towering mountains and gracious hospitality -- to join the modern world. Many political pundits see the Afghan election as a "make or break" proposition with high stakes that include the power and influence of the Taliban, potential violence and most importantly, women's rights.

The election indicators point to progress:

As President Karzai's presidential term comes to an end, the top three contenders for president include: Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a 64-year-old technocrat who served in Karzai's government and whose uniquely Lebanese-American wife could potentially be the first lady of Afghanistan; Abdullah Abdullah, 53, and Zalmai Rassoul, 70, are both former finance ministers.

On the women's front, there are several stunning and thrilling developments in this election including two experienced women -- Habiba Sarabi the former governor of Bamiyan, and Naheed Farid, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat, are both running for vice president in this Afghani election.

Mariam Wardak, a young bicultural Afghan who straddles between the US and Afghanistan remembers the days when her mother could not expose her face to a brother-in-law. Contrast that with today, when her mother is running for a seat on the provincial council in Wardak, her face imprinted on thousands of ballot pamphlets as she campaigns in Saydabad, heavily infiltrated by the Taliban.

Ms. Sarabi, the running mate for the presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul captivated the hearts and minds of the crowds. "Not just a token name on a presidential ticket, but a campaign draw in her own right," she energized her audience and "pretty much rocked the show," said Haseeb Humayoon, a Rassoul campaign worker.

This election marked a turning point for the political participation of Afghan women in electoral politics. Despite security threats, Afghan women candidates, registered voters and campaign supporters participated in rallies and waited in line to register to vote across the country. Ms. Anar Gul, who registered to vote in Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan says, "If we don't participate in the election and choose our destiny, this nation will not get better. Our one vote could change the future of Afghanistan." And she continued, "Our voting in the elections will help this country walk forward towards democracy and prosperity."

More women candidates are listed on provincial ballots, with two running for vice president which was well received in urban areas. The true test of an inclusive democracy is evidenced by a young 21-year-old mother, Parwah Naseri. Despite the burqa, she was willing to speak through the mesh netting covering her face. She is a first time voter, voting "for her children and for women's rights." In a whisper, she continued: "I believe in the right of women to take part just as men do, to get themselves educated and to work."

Lynsey Addario, a photographer and contributor to Time Magazine, was a frequent visitor to Afghanistan over 14 years. She writes about traveling with presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul and his running mate, vice presidential candidate Habiba Sarabi, to Mazar-e-Sharif for an election rally. When she heard the roaring crowd, she thought they were cheering for Rassoul. Wrong -- they were cheering for his vice presidential candidate Habiba Sarabi. Addario writes: "Tens of thousands of Afghan men were cheering for a woman, an Afghan woman, running for the second highest office in the country. And for a moment, I knew the Afghan people had won. The Taliban could force them inside no longer."
( Read more here.)

P.S. On a sad note, I want to respectfully applaud the life of an unsung heroine, Roshan Thomas of Vancouver who chose to do public service work with heart, mind and soul in Afghanistan. She was mindlessly killed in the attack on the Serena hotel in Kabul. We applaud her commitment and her lifelong efforts to markedly improve the lives of children in Afghanistan.

Khadijah's daughters is a blog by Shahnaz Chinoy Taplin, board president of Invest in Muslim Women, a non-profit project of the Global Fund for Women. Invest in Muslim Women focuses on the economic empowerment of Muslim women, justice and peace. The blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife and the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.