Now, two women candidates are among the 41 running for president in Thursday's vote. Neither has gained any traction, but the issue of women's participation came up as one of the questions during a TV debate Sunday night.
"Women should not be considered the second sex," said candidate Ramzan Bashardost. One local Kabul man, Bismallah Ahmadi, said after watching the debate at a restaurant that it was his favorite line of the evening.
On the campaign trail
On the campaign trail, both Karzai and candidate Ashraf Ghani have reached out to women voters with special women's rallies. Thousands attended Karzai's rally in Kabul Thursday in which he claimed credit for opening girls' schools. Karzai also appointed the country's first female governor as well as female ministers.
Several women after the rally said they appreciated the focus on education, but complained that the salaries for teachers – many of whom are women – aren't enough to put food on the table.
"If Karzai were not here, we would not have the freedom to say all these things, but if Karzai is reelected, we want to have him work on these things," says Shakila Mohammad.
Controversial marriage bill
Representative politics here hasn't always represented female freedoms.
In March, Karzai signed a marriage law bill for Afghanistan's Shiite minority that critics said essentially legalized marital rape. The pushback, both from the international community and Afghan women, forced Karzai to suspend enforcement.