KABUL (Pajhwok): The level of awareness regarding the election process and voting is dismally low among Kochi women, something which can pave the ground for fraud and prevent the nomadic women from casting their votes in a proper manner. 
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) may launch an awareness building drive from tomorrow but according election watchdogs say the time left is not enough for the purpose. 
Wolesi Jirga polls are scheduled for October 20 this year. According to the panel, around nine million people have been documented as voters, 34 percent of them women. As many as 2,565, including 417 women, are in the electoral fray. 
Without giving a gender breakup, the commission says 168,000 Kochis have been listed as voters across the country except in Panjsher, Bamyan and Nuristan. 
For Kochis, the entire country is one constituency. Thirty-six men and eight women from the community are contesting elections.
Every voter on the Election Day should find the ballot paper of a contestant of his/her choice besides producing original tazkera with a sticker. 
The voter should know how to tick the ballot paper; otherwise he/she may vote for another candidate. His/her vote could be rejected because of a wrong choice. 
Pajhwok Afghan News has conducted interviews with Khochi women in Khost, Nangarhar and Kabul regarding the voting process. They have little knowledge about the process. 
Khanam Jan Kochi, 23, lives in the Khanikhor area in Khost City, the provincial capital. 
She is illiterate but still registered as voter. She said nobody had provided her training on how to choose a candidate.
Khan Jan, who did not know the election date, would vote for a candidate who could build a school and provide health facilities for the people. 
But, Khani, 35, another Kochi woman from the same area, has not registered as a voter. In response to a query about the democratic exercise, she asked: “What election? When is it going to happen?”
When Pajhwok explained to her the electoral process and the representation of a particular group by one person, she said: “I don’t have an ID card; otherwise I would have voted for someone who could work of the resolution of Khochis’ problems.”
Her viewpoint suggested there was urgent need for enhancing public awareness and motivating the people to vote in the upcoming elections. 
Anara, another Kochi woman who lives in the Sarband area of Kama district, acknowledged she knew nothing about polls and how to vote because she did not cast her ballot in the previous election. 
The 40-year old woman said no team had visited the area so far to give them awareness regarding elections. Kochis even in Kabul, where almost half of them have registered as voter, are faced with the same problem.
Sheen Gul, a Kochi woman who is living in Pul-i-Charkhi area on the eastern outskirts of Kabul city, has registered herself to vote in the upcoming elections.
She said she did not know well how to cast her vote and would ask IEC officials to help her cast her vote on the Election Day.
She complained less a one month was left to go for the polls but so far she and other tribeswomen had received no awareness information from the IEC side.
Still undecided in choosing a candidate, she said she would vote for someone who could adorn Kuchi girls with education.
She said there were educated Kuchi girls who lacked awareness about election process and how to cast their votes.
Bibi Nasima, headmaster of the Janat Gul Khan Madrasa, said she had registered herself to vote in the upcoming elections because it was a national process. 
She said in the past they would cast votes using a simple card but now the voting was going to be biometric, she did not know the use of the technology. 
She said so far no organization had given information to Kuchi people about elections despite the fact they needed such information more than others.
Nasima urged the IEC to launch awareness program about election process for Kuchi people.
Independent Directorate of Coordination of Kuchi Affairs acting head Hikmatullah Hikmat did not provide exact figures for Kuchis registered in the upcoming elections but said a less number of Kuchis people had registered as voters this time compared to the past.
He said Kuchis who had registered to vote were also not aware how to vote, something he called a huge challenge and concern for them.
He said the Independent Directorate of Coordination of Kochi Affairs had many times shared the issue with IEC officials, but so far their demand remained unmet.
Rubina Hamdard, head of the Afghan Women Advocacy Network, said most of the people, particularly women lacked awareness about elections. “I am certain the IEC has not yet conducted any awareness program for Kuchi women regarding elections.”
She said their network had launched its own election awareness programs in some districts of Kabul and in other provinces, but not for Kuchi women.
However, she said they would launch such a program for Kuchi women in if it was possible.
Effects of lack of awareness about elections
Robina Hamdard, head of Afghan Women Advocacy Network, termed the lack of people’s awareness about elections especially nomadic women as a huge challenge.
She said it was likely that Kuchi women’s participation would further diminish and lack of awareness about elections would render them unable to use their votes properly.
Yousuf Rashid, head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FIFA), said the lack of awareness among Kuchi women about voting method and the right to vote could lead to possible abuse and fraud and a majority of these women’s votes could be declared invalid.
IEC efforts for awareness
Zabihullah Sadat, deputy spokesman for IEC, said the commission used radio, television and hundreds of billboards for public awareness about elections.
He said awareness campaigns would begin on September 27 nationwide. Responding to a question, he said the commission was trying to aware people through the program as much as possible in 23 days.
It is too late for awareness drive
FIFA head said awareness program by the IEC and civil society institutions were important for all people especially Kuchis.
He believed it was difficult the IEC and non-governmental organizations would execute the awareness program nation-wide in 23 days due to insecurity, mismanagement and lack of enough time.
According to him, FIFA had previously asked the IEC and relevant organs to pay more attention to public awareness about elections, but no serious action was taken.


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