Press coverage around the recent presidential elections in Afghanistan emphasised the low turnout of women voters, highlighting the shortage of female staff at polling stations, proxy voting by male family members, and the threat of retributive violence against women voters and candidates as key factors. However, the academic literature is largely silent on these issues, both in the Afghanistan context and more generally. According to one author, relatively little is known about the actual dynamics of women’s access to the polls and their opportunities to stand as candidates. Most studies of women’s political participation focus on the problem of low levels of female representation in government. This stream of research considers the structural and cultural conditions that make it difficult for women to be nominated as candidates and to win political office, as well as the behaviour of female parliamentarians once in government.
This literature finds that there are many obstacles to women’s equal participation in elections, including gender stereotypes, psychological and traditional barriers, and inequalities in education, training and resources. Also, political parties, ethnic groups or clans can often be dominated by men, leaving little opportunity for women to enter the political process through established political groups. Other barriers may be built into political structures, including certain types of electoral systems or candidacy restrictions based on educational qualifications or other factors.