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The Asia Foundation and UK's Department for International Development (DFID) on Wednesday pledged $6 million to help the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission (IEC) prepare a plan to fuel female participation in the upcoming elections.

Female voter turnout has been one the most hot-button issues in the discourse surrounding next year's elections. Early on in the voter registration process back in June, many women's rights advocates and even a female Commissioner of the IEC, Rida Azimi, spoke out about the low number of women receiving voter cards. Although reports have indicated the rate of female registration has increased since then, the most recent IEC figures still put the number of voter cards held by women at around 152,000 out of the 627,000 total cards that have been issued.

In a statement it released to announce the grant, the Asia Foundation called women's participation in the spring elections crucial and urged the Afghan government to develop a full-fledged plan to increase female turnout.

Dr. Ahmad Yousaf Nuristani, the head of the IEC, noted that nearly 50 percent of eligible voters are women, which meant their participation was critical to ensuring the election on April 5 was truly representative of the Afghan people.

"Increased women's participation in the electoral process will ensure legitimacy and transparency of the elections," Mr. Nuristani said.

The financial assistance provided by the Asia Foundation and DFID was assigned broadly to making the elections a success and help Afghanistan in its political transition.

However, the institutions' officials echoed the IEC head's comments by stating clearly that without a rise in women's participation, the elections could not be a success.

"Our project will ensure that women have visibility and a voice in the electoral process and the number of women candidates hopefully will increase," said Mark Kryzer, the Asia Foundation's representative to Afghanistan. "Enhancing their access to justice and supporting their participation in elections is fundamental to Afghanistan's future prosperity and democratic freedoms."

While garnering as high voter turnout is a priority of the IEC at the moment, security concerns are said to be the major challenge facing the elections. According to the IEC, voter registration in 10 districts across the country remained unopened due to security threats.

In addition to security and registration, however, other issues present obstacles yet to be surmounted by the IEC. The lack of a sufficient monitoring system for campaigns, the regulations on candidate campaign expenditures and the nominations of Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) members are all still matters waiting to be sorted out.

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