Fatema Jafari, a member of the Herat Provincial Council and 2016 National Endowment for Democracy (NED) fellow, recently visited NDI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss her experience in Afghan politics. Fatema first entered the political sphere in Afghanistan’s 2009 provincial council elections to promote women’s rights and advocate for key issues in her province, including public health. She was re-elected in the 2014 provincial council elections. As an incumbent councilor, she now serves on internal committees, and works with advocacy campaigns to oppose violence against women and protect women’s rights at the local and national levels in Afghanistan. Throughout the entirety of her political career, Fatema has been an avid participant of NDI’s campaign schools and post-election programs.
“I think if the international community -- especially NDI -- was not involved during that period, I [would not have been] a good representative of my people in the Provincial Council of Herat. And I [would not have been] reelected for second time.” - Fatema Jafari, Member of the Herat Provincial Council
NDI has been working to promote women’s political participation in Afghanistan since 2002, providing participants with the tools necessary to run campaigns and effectively represent their constituents once elected. NDI conducted its most recent campaign schools for female candidates in 2013, in advance of the 2014 provincial council elections. Following these elections, NDI organized an orientation program for newly elected provincial councilors to develop their capacity for leadership in office.
Fatema first participated in NDI programs in 2009, prior to and after her first election. She took advantage of NDI’s training programs again in 2014. At NDI’s headquarters, she highlighted the value of orientation programs that taught the newly-elected leaders “how we can deal with the media and how we can make a statement on behalf of the provincial council.”
Fatema’s commitment to women’s rights extends to all of her work on the Herat Provincial Council. As the head of the family support committee, she facilitated the creation of a network of roughly 80 women’s organizations. Fatema also participated in three loya jirgas (consultative councils) from 2010 to 2013.
“I think if the international community -- especially NDI -- was not involved during that period, I [would not have been] a good representative of my people in the Provincial Council of Herat,” she said. “And I [would not have been] reelected for second time.”
Fatema’s leadership, alongside other female activists and politicians, signals a historic change in Afghanistan’s political landscape. This level of participation is an indication that Afghan women continue to make significant progress toward the development of political and social rights since Taliban rule. She reflected, “Before, we are half of the population but didn’t have any representatives in the local or national government.” Fatema noted that this new political representation has enabled women, among other marginalized peoples, to develop their “own voice” and shape democratic governance throughout Afghanistan. As activists, elected officials and constituents, their contributions are essential to building and sustaining democracy.
As Fatema concluded, “If we can speak in behalf of ourselves and others … this is our duty to participate and this is our duty to use this chance to bring change to our lives.”
NDI is currently conducting a Canadian-funded Global Affairs program to promote meaningful political participation of Afghan women by:
- enhancing the capacity of candidates to compete in elections as well as to serve their constituents once elected;
- encouraging women who were not successful in their electoral campaigns to participate in the public sphere; and
- broadening public awareness and dialogue on the present challenges and approaches to strengthening women’s political participation.
NDI’s women’s political participation programming in Afghanistan is supported by Global Affairs Canada and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Published on June 29, 2016