Kabul: Fearing that a Taliban-like fundamentalist government may return, many women in Afghanistan are determined to vote in the upcoming presidential polls to defend their hard-won rights enshrined since the collapse of the regime in 2001.
Activist Muqadasa Ahmadzai, 25, was only a child when the Taliban ruled the country for five years from 1996. She works for women in Nangarhar, one of the most dangerous provinces where the insurgent groups dominate vast territories.
"Today women are teachers, doctors, pilots, they have the right to drive, take part in elections, and advocate for their civil and fundamental rights," Ahmadzai told Efe news, explaining the progress made in the past 18 years.
In contrast, she said, under the regime "women were killed, flogged in public for not wearing burqa, schools abandoned and hospitals destroyed."
"Although women still have challenges, the progress we have made is significant," she said.
After starting almost from scratch, women now occupy 27 per cent of civil service posts, and dozens of them hold senior positions in the government as Ministers or Ambassadors in the country where 39 per cent of over 9 million school students are girls.
Ahmadzai has asked women to mobilize through democratic means, especially during the elections set for September 28.
"To protect their achievements and defend their rights, women need to take an active part in upcoming elections and should elect a president who can truly defend their rights against the Taliban in the peace talks," said the activist.
There are 18 candidates in the fray, including incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who is seeking a second term, his CEO Abdullah Abdullah, former insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and former intelligence chief Hanif Atmar.
Out of the 9.6 million registered voters, only 3.3 million, or 34.5 percent, are women, despite the efforts by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to increase female participation.
"Women's participation in urban areas is good, but due to family and cultural restrictions, insecurity, and lack of awareness, the number goes down as we move from cities to rural and remote areas," Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, IEC spokesperson, told Efe news.
Meanwhile for women like Lina Faiz, the Taliban's threats were not enough to deter them from exercising their democratic right.
"Taliban threats should not stop us. We should use ballots against the Taliban's bullets," Faiz said.