Image: Election training in Afghanistan
Adress Latif  /  Reuters
An ethnic Afghan Hazara woman, training to head a polling station, leads a room of mostly men in rehearsing election procedures in Bamiyan, located in central Afghanistan on Wednesday. Afghanistan is scheduled to hold it's presidential elections on Thursday.
updated 8/16/2009 1:59:05 AM ET 2009-08-16T05:59:05

The picture shows a battered woman peering through a broken window. The words below say in Pashto, the Afghan language: "Why in the 21st century are women here found only in the home and the cemetery?"

The poster is on the dirt-smeared wall of the Department of Women's Affairs in southern Kandahar. It's here that Roona Tarin, the women's affairs director general, is training other women to be officials in Thursday's presidential election.

Wrapped in a black shawl, her figure hidden behind a loose black robe, Tarin says dozens of women were trained. But they won't be traveling outside Kandahar, and will be deployed at "women-only polling stations."

The region around Kandahar and other parts of the south and east is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns and is deeply conservative. Women are rarely seen on the streets without wearing an all-enveloping burqa and a male relative as chaperon.

The strong Taliban presence makes things worse. Because of the Taliban, women won't be deployed at all in the neighborhoods in the south and the north of Kandahar.

Tarin glanced around as she spoke. "They are here in Kandahar," she said.

Dangerous ground
Tarin knows how dangerous her job can be. Her predecessor was gunned down in 2006 outside her home in Kandahar — a killing the Taliban were quick to take responsibility for. In recent years, acid has been thrown on girls going to school, policewomen have been gunned down and threats have piled up against women who defy the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam.

Letters have circulated at night warning men not to allow their wives and daughters to vote. Companies have been told not to hire women.

Mohammed Qahir Wasafi, the Independent Election Commission official for Kandahar, said that while 42 percent of all those registered in the province were women, several polling centers in the rural areas will not have female officials.

"Security doesn't allow them to go," he said.

Instead, he said, elderly men with long white beards who are known to the village will be selected as polling officials in the women's polling centers.

'Only democracy in name'
Tarin blames the Taliban's strength on the lack of development since they were thrown out of power. She says she has been threatened, and her husband worries she will lose her job.

"You name the threat and it has been made against me," she said.

Yet she is determined to keep fighting for women's rights in a country that has few to offer them. She will vote but is deeply disappointed in the government.

"It is only democracy in name," she said. "It does not give women their rights."

More on: Afghanistan | Kandahar

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Suicide blast rocks area near NATO headquarters in Kabul

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  1. A car is engulfed in flames after a suicide car bomb exploded near the main gate of the NATO headquarters, killing three Afghans and wounding 70, on Saturday, Aug. 15, in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsiblity for the attack which happened five days before Afghanistan conducts the second direct presidential election in its history. (Getty Images / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A man who was injured by a suicide car bomb explosion lies on a bed at a hospital in Kabul on Saturday. (Farzana Wahidy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Unexplored ordinances are carried by a security official after they were found at the site of a suicide car bomb explosion which occurred near the main gate of NATO's headquarters in Kabul on Saturday. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Colleagues look at a minor injury sustained by a soldier after a suicide car bomb explosion which occurred near the main gate of NATO's headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday Aug. 15, 2009.(AP Photo/Saurabh Das) (Saurabh Das / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Afghans sit beside shattered window panes near the site of a suicide car bomb attack, targeting the US embassy near NATO's headquarters in Kabul on Saturday. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Afghan doctors and workers carry wounded people who were injured by a suicide car bomb explosion at a hospital in Kabul on Saturday. (Farzana Wahidy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A U.S. soldier reacts after a suicide car bomb explosion which occurred near the main gate of NATO's headquarters in Kabul on Saturday. (Saurabh Das / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A wounded civilian talks on the phone at a hospital after a suicide attack near the NATO headquarters in Kabul on Saturday. (Dima Gavrysh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. NATO soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) secure the site of a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul on Saturday. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Afghan workers look at victims of a suicide car bomb explosion near the main gate of NATO's headquarters in Kabul on Saturday. (Farzana Wahidy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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