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AREU Synthesis Paper Series

likely to change overnight) tend to coincide with distinct advantage on the part of male privilege and power over women. As long as this is the case, any perceived attempt to disrupt this power dynamic will inevitably lead to resistance and potential conflict. As has been seen in the violent reactions to successive efforts to promote women’s empowerment over the last century, 60 such interventions can end up more destructive than helpful in the long run if they are perceived as imposing an outside agenda without consultation or widespread acceptance from members of the public. It is clear that one of the key problems with “Western democracy” as described by male respondents in rural areas is its perceived challenge to gendered norms and the balance of power between men and women. Whether the “Islamic democracy” they offer as an alternative would be a democracy at all in the eyes of some of the Afghan women cited above, however, is a different matter altogether—and a question for

further research.

4.4 Elections: An Afghan institution?

In contrast to the more general discourse of democracy and democratisation, the idea of holding elections (which is not always directly associated with democracy) is not seen as a hostile imposition of foreign culture in Afghanistan. This is the case not only at a local level, where leaders are selected by community consensus, but also at the national level regarding elections and the phenomenon of majority rule. Furthermore, as the following quotations from urban and rural Ghazni and some insecure areas of rural Nimroz indicate, this sentiment is not restricted to secure areas:

Parliamentary elections are the main symbol of freedom in Afghanistan, and this is why the parliament is called the house of the people. It doesn’t matter whether they do their job in a good way or not—we are not going to let this symbol die...Our young generation should be well-educated and they must know the importance of elections.

  • Male teacher, urban Ghazni

60 Deniz Kandiyoti, “The Politics of Gender and Reconstruction in Afghanistan” (Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 2005), 31.


Elections are good for Afghanistan. MPs can assist the president—for example, we heard on the radio that the parliament took part in appointing ministers.

  • Male farmer, rural Ghazni

Elections are very good for the people of a country, and they are interesting because the members of parliament work for the people of the country. Foreigners do not work for the good of the country.

  • Male teacher, rural Ghazni

Parliament is very good and suitable for the government of Afghanistan. The members of parliament should do more work themselves to serve the people, however.

  • Male shopkeeper, urban Ghazni

Clear in these quotations is a sense of ownership over elections, and a link made between elections and the need for representatives to work for the country. The third respondent cited above went on to reject “democracy” outright as a foreign imposition that was not suited to the Afghan context—yet he was in favour of the idea of elections and participating in selecting representatives. However, experiences of what these representatives have been able to provide during their term in office are usually negative, with most respondents reporting a complete lack of service provision or visibility in their constituency. Furthermore, many interviewees claimed that the majority were corrupt, embezzling public funds for their own use and accumulating considerable sums of money for themselves and their families. Nevertheless, during the interview period there was a consistent degree of support for the idea of elections and—perhaps surprisingly in insecure areas—a general display of enthusiasm at the prospect of voting in the 2010 elections (although this did not appear to translate into actual participation on election day).

In Nimroz, respondents were from more remote rural areas than those interviewed in Ghazni61 and other

61 The research team focused their data collection in one rural village, which was still not more than 20km away from the provincial centre, due to security problems.

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