This Saturday, Afghan men, women and youth will cast their votes in what hopes to be the first democratic presidential transition in the country’s history.  For women in particular, the stakes are extremely high, and the occasion evokes both celebration and trepidation.

The election shines a spotlight on the significant gains made by Afghan women since the Taliban were toppled from rule 12 years ago. There are more than 300 female candidates in provincial elections, and there are three running for vice president. Habiba Sarabi, current Governor of Bamiyan province, is the first female vice presidential candidate to share the ticket with a frontrunner.

The election is also helping to shine a spotlight on women’s gains outside of the political arena. One mark of progress I tend to cite when I talk about life after the Taliban is the number of women in security. In Sarabi’s province of Bamiyan alone, there are a reported 21 female police officers. On the educational front, there were fewer than 500,000 boys in school under the Taliban, today more than 9 million children go to school and 4 million of them are girls.

But these gains are fragile. The Taliban promises to disrupt the elections, and although violence is reportedly at its lowest point in 2 years, they are making good on their threats to use violence to intimidate voters.

“Many of the students at the school I’m involved in haven’t lived under the Taliban.”

We touched on many of these issues in my recent conversation with humanitarian and lawyer Cornelia Schneider, a Fletcher alumna who has dedicated her energies to women’s rights and improving their access to justice in war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Her efforts in Afghanistan have helped to provide education and leadership skills to a new generation of young women in Afghanistan, who, in her words have “never lived under the Taliban.”

Let’s hope they never have to.

Editor’s note: Ms. Schneider was honored with the inaugural Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award during a ceremony held at the School on Friday, March 7. Read Connie’s 3 Plus 1 Tips for Creating Positive Change in Conflict.

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