Against All Odds, Afghanistan Women Seek Office

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Defying all odds, two women are among the candidates running for president in Afghanistan's election, to be held next month.

Running for office as a woman in one of the most conservative countries in the world is not easy.

Her name is Shahla Ata -- and what she attempting to do is nothing short of dangerous.

"As a woman candidate, I'm challenging 40 men," Ata said.

Ata is one of two women running for Afghanistan's highest office next month. Throughout, 328 female candidates are also vying for seats in the country's 34 provincial councils.

But Ata admits it won't be easy running against the men in this contest.

"They have money, I don't have money," she said.

Yet, while on a campaign stop in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Ata exudes a kind of confidence that is rarely on display in this very conservative Islamic nation.

"I am running because all people are behind me," Ata said. "The women, the children, young generation, everybody, they are all supporting me."

Women in Afghanistan still wear the burqa and rarely speak to men outside their immediate family. Women who defy these traditional gender roles are routinely threatened or killed.  

Afghanistan's constitution gives equal rights to men and women. But despite an increase in the number of girls in school, most Afghan women, especially in rural areas, still lack full rights to work and education. 

Hundreds of schools and students have been attacked this year by Islamic militants who oppose advancements for women's rights.

Still, human rights groups are calling on women in Afghanistan to take stand.

"Women should participate in the election process, they have rights according to the constitution," Hafifa Azim, director of Afghan Women's Network, said. "They should use these rights and not avoid them."

Incumbent president Hamid Karzai is still front-runner. But getting people to vote might be a challenge.

The Taliban is warning Afghans not to participate in next month's election. The group released a statement Thursday calling the vote an "American process." 

Meanwhile, thousands of U.S., British, and Afghan forces are trying to ensure stability ahead of the presidential election.

*Originally aired July 31, 2009 

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