Reports the Taliban sliced off the index fingers of two Afghan women who dared to vote in their elections last week were a reminder, if we needed any, who the polls’ biggest losers were.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, seem to be neck-and-neck in results. But poor security, rampant fraud and too few female election staff kept many women from voting stations, leaving us wondering what chance women stood in getting their voices heard.

Going into the Aug. 20 polls, things didn’t look so bad on paper. There were nearly 350 women registered as provincial council candidates — about 10 per cent of the total. Afghanistan’s constitution reserves one-quarter of provincial council seats for women to guarantee them a role in political life.

But the Taliban’s brutality is just one of the many rocks and hard places that surround Afghan women.

Karzai, the celebrated “moderate” on the scene, showed how spectacularly easy it was to sell out women for votes when he ratified a controversial family law to win the votes of fundamentalists. He promised to reword it after an international outcry but, in fact, made it worse.

The legislation, meant to govern family law for minority Muslim Shiites, who make up about 15 per cent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people, gives a man the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife if she refuses to obey his sexual demands, according to Human Rights Watch.

It’s a painful blow for women’s rights because Afghan Shiites are generally more liberal than many of their Sunni compatriots.

Fighting between NATO troops and the Taliban insurgency takes a huge toll on Afghan civilians and makes it almost impossible for women’s groups to do the simplest of their work, let alone take on those myriad rocks and hard places.

So exactly for whose benefit were the elections? Clearly, not women’s.

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