Afghan women stand to be counted as West begins to disengage

Wed Apr 16, 2014 5:09pm EDT
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By Jessica Donati

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Framed by her blue shawl, the solemn, bespectacled face of Serena Faizi peers out from an election campaign poster at a Kandahar city roundabout, while Afghanistan approaches its own crossroads as Western troops prepare to go home.

When the United States first deployed forces in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and hunt Osama bin Laden, Faizi was barely a teenager.

Having grown up in a city on the front line of the insurgency, she has entered politics, the most dangerous arena of all for a woman in Afghanistan. She is beginning political life just as the West, which has championed women's rights, has begun to disengage.

While the country awaits the outcome of the larger contest to see who succeeds Hamid Karzai as president after 12 years in power, Faizi is awaiting results of the April 5 election to find out whether she has won a seat in Kandahar's provincial council.

Contesting meant becoming a potential target for the Taliban. Police insisted on giving her an armed escort home on the night of the ballot as the risk became more real.

"I was scared," admitted Faizi, a former media relations officer in the provincial governor's administration.

"We are like a challenge. They tell me: 'Serena, you can't do that'. "I say: 'I can," she told Reuters in rapid-fire English perfected through lessons taken over Skype.

"If men can do it, women can also do the same thing."   Continued...

Serena Faizi, 25, one of the provincial candidate elections from Kandahar, sits at a public library in Kandahar province, April 14, 2014. REUTERS/ Ahmad Nadeem