THE BLOG

Afghan Women Train for the Trail

At a morning session in the basement of a sprawling three-story home doubling as an office, a handsome woman in an ivory head scarf and open-toed black heels talks campaign tactics to a dozen women around a horseshoe-shaped table.

"You must think about what your objective is," she begins. "That is to become a member of the Provincial Council."

"You need a good network to accomplish your goals. Motivation is also important."

An hour later another woman takes to the floor, pointing to a white piece of paper with black-markered drawings of the many shapes campaign communication can take: TV, direct mail, radio, rallies, living room teas, Internet outreach, and door-to-door grassroots politicking.

"It's very important to go door to door to get your message out," she says, standing in front of a whiteboard. "And budgets matter: holding rallies can give you the biggest impact with the least cost." SMS and mobile phones are good for reaching supporters, she says, before once again reminding her fellow trainees that it is "very important to keep the campaign message clear and simple."

The women community leaders receiving this education in effective campaign tactics will train more than 100 female candidates for Provincial Council in the run-up to the August 20 elections. Of the nearly 3200 candidates running for Provincial Councils nationwide, 328 are female. The idea is to help women run for and win office, and to grow the ranks of women serving in government.

The program's participants say they're eager to share their campaign savvy with aspiring female office holders from around the country. They argue that this summer's election should be just the beginning.

"In the previous election, women were not mobilized," says an Afghan journalist and community activist who is part of the training team. "Step by step we've gained this opportunity."

Though daunting challenges, from insecurity to widespread voter apathy, loom large, the women say they will not be easily discouraged.

"This election women know their rights, they are learning how to run for office and they know how to pursue their goals," says the journalist, who notes that a number of women candidates she knows are being supported by their families and their communities. "I am optimistic about the future."