VOTES: Supporting Afghan youth and women to vote

Dispelling myths associated with voting being against Islam or illegal. EAI launched a holistic program to amplify voter rights and encourage women and youth to vote.

A Project of
Afghanistan, UK Department for International Development (DFID); Emory University; South African Medical Research Council (MRC)

One thing that I learned from this program is if we want to build our country and help our people, we must participate in elections and we must select our own candidates.” 

Abdullah from Parwan Province, 22 years old


In 2010, EAI launched the Afghanistan Women and Youth VOTES (Voter Organization, Training, and Election Support) project in nine Afghan provinces: Baghlan, Balkh, Kapisa, Kunar, Kunduz, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Samangan, and Takhar. The project promoted understanding of, and participation in, the 2010 Wolesi Jirga election process specifically targeting Afghan women and youth.


Leading up to the September 2010 elections, VOTES launched a multi-component campaign to enable Afghan women and youth to understand their rights and obligations to galvanize their votes and encouraged Afghan citizens, particularly women, to take an active role in elections. Voter engagement was promoted through mobile theater performances, radio programs broadcast in Pashto and Dari, Learning Discussion and Action Groups (LDAG), post-performance facilitated discussions, training programs, and partnerships with regional civil society organizations.

Radio Programs: The radio programs were played by both Salam Watandar FM and NAWA. 32 individual programs were created in Dari and Pashtu. The programs were aired three times a week, in both Dari and Pashtu in northern and central provinces within their 22-province coverage.

Episodes: The programs covered topics such as how to register to vote and the right to vote within the context of Islam. For example, one episode followed Jawad, a young man who explains to another community member how he became a candidate in the elections, including details about how many signatures a candidate needs and how much it costs. Another episode follows a different candidate, Daoud, as he learns how to gain votes. He learns that he should share his ideas about what he stands for to influence people’s votes and that buying votes from people is not the right way to win an election.

Theater: One of the most effective elements of the project was the Fanayee Theater Group, an Afghan Organization and longtime partner of Equal Access Afghanistan. In rural areas around the country, vast numbers of people are illiterate, deprived of education and information, and have little knowledge of the democratic process or its place within Islam. For many of these people, the theater provides educational and entertainment opportunities that would otherwise not be available.

The theater program was held in areas where there seemed to be a lack of information or misinformation on civic education based on the feedback during our formative research and inputs format he LDAGs. Entitled “Our Vote – Our Trust,” the performance takes the audience inside a community to see citizens thinking about how they can make positive changes in Afghanistan. The story explores the importance of voting and how the selection of a candidate can impact the health of the country. It highlights the importance of working with the government and what role their representatives should play for them. It also addressed the concern of some Afghans that elections are against Islam, showing how the two do not stand in opposition to one another. At the end of the play, the logistics of voting and candidacies was detailed. 

“We learned about things we didn’t have any information about and now I think, if we want, we can build our country with our vote.” - Samy from Parwan Province

Impact & Reach of this Project


Audience members reached with mobile theater performance "Our Trust, Our Choice"


Radio drama episodes produced and broadcast nationally


Respondents said they shared what they learned with family and friends outside the listening group


In Kapisa Province, one of the actors, who was preparing to play his role as a Mullah, was addressed by two local Mullahs who told him that he was not allowed to pretend to be a Mullah. The actor asked the Mullahs to stay for the performance and that if they still felt after the performance that what he was doing was wrong, he would stop. The two local Mullahs watched the performance and told him afterward that they really enjoyed it and that he could be a Mullah anytime.

According to The DRL VOTES Project Evaluation, conducted by Soraya Mashal Consulting, there were significant gains made by project participants in their knowledge about the election process. They overcame, for example, the misunderstanding that there was a fee to register to vote (the cost was in fact for candidates).

We learned from this program that everyone has the right to participate in elections and must select his or her candidate, the person who can support our people and can solve their problems."
from Samangan Province (23 years old)