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Under burqas, Afghan women voted in protest

A relatively high female turnout in many areas showed a desire to keep the Taliban at bay and to gain more rights.

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Whether American troops can leave Afghanistan sooner rather than later depends on democracy's gains in that war-ravaged country – and the gains of women, too.

Thursday's elections for president and local councils were such a gain – seen especially in the turnout of women to vote in defiance of Taliban threats of retaliation. In some places, women were 60 percent of voters – predictable in part because women far outnumber men in voter registration in many regions – although their presence at voting booths in the Taliban-infested south was low.

Why such a large female turnout in some areas despite a low turnout overall?

Having lived under Taliban rule until the 2001 US invasion – and now facing a Taliban resurgence – women in Afghanistan are eager to keep what few rights they now have.

As in many Muslim countries, advances for Afghan women are critical to preventing a takeover by Islamic terrorists or to reduce their backward influence. They deserve the world's support, such as the threefold increase in US aid – to $250 million – for Afghan women and girls promised by the Obama administration.

The US military, too, has made a point of dispatching female soldiers to talk to women in their homes. "It is important for the women of Afghanistan to know we are here to listen and help them," said one female marine.

Just seeing US women on troop patrol in boots and uniform is sure to have an impact. During the American Occupation of Japan after World War II, Japanese women were emboldened to raise their status in part by seeing American women driving cars.

But it is the few Afghan women who have gained political prominence who are making the most difference. Two of the 41 presidential candidates were women, and a record number of women ran for provincial councils. (Official results are not due until September.) By law, a quarter of parliament must be women.

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