Lines of blue burqas marked Afghan elections as women turned out in large numbers to vote in several cities – unthinkable under the Taliban, who would not allow women to work or study, let alone cast their ballot.
In the eastern city of Jalalabad, three women posed for photographers outside a school turned into a polling station for the first round of the presidential election.
Each held a baby in one hand and with the other proudly showed her index finger, stained purple to show she has voted.
Nearby, 20-year-old Ayesha wore a look of unwavering determination as she went to cast her first-ever vote, ignoring the threat to attack the polls from Taliban insurgents, ever-present in this part of Afghanistan.
“I am eligible to vote and even if there were suicide attacks by the Taliban, I would have not cared about it,” she said.
“We have to vote to show the enemies we are not afraid of them. We should give our enemies a jaw-breaking answer by casting our ballot.”
In Jalalabad and the surrounding area, women formed long queues even before polls opened – a sign of a changing society, increasingly aware of the importance of elections.
There are some signs that Afghan men are coming round to the idea of women’s involvement as well. Of the eight presidential candidates, all men, three chose a woman among their running mates, including Zalmai Rassoul, one of the favourites.
In the last presidential election in 2009, women made up 40 per cent of voters. But, in the conservative rural areas, the darker side of the female vote came out – fraud through fake voting cards and communal bloc voting.