On April 5, 2014, 7 million Afghans, 35% of them women, courageously stepped out onto the street, in rain and insecurity, lined up at the polls and voted for the leaders who, the people hope, will lead them to peace.
The Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) was at the forefront of the get-out-the-vote effort. Trusted by Afghans, AIL has brought quality, culturally appropriate education to over 300,000 women and children since 1996. In the last year AIL has held election workshops, symposiums and conferences for over 10,000 women, men and youth. The purpose of these conferences was to gather diverse members of society - young, old; poor, rich; women, men; rural, urban focusing especially on youth and women. At the conferences they discussed: their problems; the problems of society as well as the significant issues of the country and the world; the importance of elections; the mechanics of how to vote; and, especially, the responsibility of each person to evaluate the quality and character of each candidate and vote wisely. Even if the participants were educated, they still lacked knowledge about the election process and their right to be part of it. People do not automatically see the relevance to their lives or their place and power in the process. Electing judges can seem more relevant to them as they come into contact with courts but not so with politicians. All those at the conferences were thinking about a bright future for Afghanistan. The conferences attracted media coverage with both TV and radio reporters attending, and the messages of the conferences reached millions.
One participant said: “I liked the information we were given about elections. The speakers spoke so clearly with real life examples. They explained about the dignity of women and their role in elections. The lectures affected me and I felt a lot of motivation to take part in elections because before I had believed voting in the elections was sinful as I had not researched about the personalities and future plans of candidates. AIL proved that it is my right and I have to vote for someone I think is the right person. Despite being educated I had always ignored finding out about civil affairs of community. In this conference AIL encouraged me to feel a sense of responsibility and to help the community change for the better. I am going to research the profiles and programs of all candidates and vote for the one that has the best programs for women.”
In the last days before the election, AIL was invited to be part of an Election Assembly for 2,000 people in a rural village. AIL trainers spoke about the role of citizens in elections and the importance of the participation of both men and women so as to build a prosperous future for themselves and Afghanistan. They encouraged participants to allow women to take voting cards and to vote for the person they believe is a good leader.
One of the participants said, “The interesting discussions changed my negative mind. To be honest, I came to this place to eat lunch because I was not going to vote in the election; neither was my family. But, the speakers’ words convinced me to vote in the election as an Afghan citizen. Today I found out that I was wrong. After this assembly, my family and I are going to vote. Thank you for helping me stop ignorance”.
The result was seen on April 5th as 7 million Afghans voted! Congratulations to the courageous women, men and youth of Afghanistan for voting for the future of their country!!! This is truly an historic occasion!