The 28-year-old woman reshaping Afghanistan's politics

Lauren Bohn is a journalist and co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted, an organization that seeks to address gender disparity in foreign policy representation in media. She's a fellow in New America's International Security Program and at the Atlantic Council. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)When Shahba Shahrukhi told her parents that she intended to run in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections on October 20 -- the country's first in eight years -- they laughed.

Lauren Bohn
"No, I am not joking," she told them, defiantly. "I must run. I have to run."
Once they realized she was serious, they quickly stopped laughing and forbade her from doing so.
    But, for the first time in her life, the 28-year-old psychologist refused to obey them.
    "I know I have to do this to show other women that you can be a leader and you can fight. This country needs new blood," Shahrukhi, who is running in her hometown of Samangan, a province in the north, told me.
    The first female in her family to have graduated from college, Shahrukhi is committed to advancing education among women, or what she calls "Afghanistan's biggest wound."
    According to the Independent Election Commission, she is among the 16% of parliamentary candidates who are women. In a country that's been called "the worst place in the world to be a woman," the elections are a referendum on the way Afghan women are regarded in society, usually as second-class citizens.
    Shahba Shahrukhi speaks to a group of men in her campaign headquarters in Samangan Province.
    During a reporting trip to Afghanistan last winter, I met many young women like Shahrukhi who are disillusioned by a government they feel has largely let them down -- women who are determined to take matters into their own hands and lead the charge, no matter the cost. As our news cycle continues to center on an increasingly autocratic US administration and worldviews become more insular, their fights cannot be ignored.
    "The world sees Afghan women as helpless, but it's up to us to save our country," she tells me. "We have no more time to waste."

    'Enemy number one'

    Afghanistan's long-delayed parliamentary elections are taking place under high stakes as the Taliban maintains its grip on more than 40% of the country and the civilian death toll has reached a new high: 8,050 fatalities in the first nine months of this year.
    The elections will be a measure of many things, including how far women have come in society. In 2013, Afghanistan's parliament passed a law lowering the proportion of provincial council seats reserved for women from 25% to 20%. Human Rights Watch called it a "broad-based attack on women's rights."
    "Sometimes it doesn't seem like the government thinks the Taliban are the main enemy of the people," Lima Ahmad, a research scholar at NATO Defense College, told me. "Instead, women are still seen as enemy number one."
    Almost exactly 17 years after the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban -- a war problematically framed by the West, in part, to "<