The Situation of Women in Afghanistan

Women in Afghanistan have been disproportionately affected by decades of economic and political instability. In the period before the Soviet occupation and the subsequent years of war, women, especially those who resided in larger cities, possessed both significant rights to educational opportunities and access to professional career opportunities. During this period, women had been instrumental in the shaping of Afghan society, including in its judicial wing where Afghan women contributed to the drafting of the 1964 Constitution and three female legislators possessed seats in the Afghan parliament. These accomplishments coincided with numerous improvements in terms of women’s rights during the 1960’s and 1970’s, including improved access to education and the prohibition of various traditional cultural practices regarding marital and familial law in which women would be discriminated against.

With the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1979 and the subsequent rise of the Mujahideen, which led to consequent rise of the Islamic state of Afghanistan in the early 1990s, conditions worsened not only for the nation as a whole, but for women in particular who were coerced back into more traditional gender roles. This culture of discrimination was further exacerbated by the rise of the Taliban, as economic and social deterioration became normalized in Afghan society with women and girls once again being disproportionately affected. Women and girls were subjected to continuous discrimination, marginalization and severe restrictions in access to education, health care and employment. These restrictions were, and continue to be, enacted through several methods, including the forced marriage of women and girls and the denial of basic education to young girls. Occurrences of honor killings are widespread, notably in the countryside and rural areas, and often go unreported or unsolved due to cultural factors and the silencing of victims.

When the Taliban fell, hopes were renewed for the improvement of Afghan socio-political and economic policies which would lead to a positive reemergence of equal rights and women’s rights. The new government attempted to bring into realization these goals through the drafting and initiation of various resolutions, laws, policies, action plans and strategies to empower the women of Afghanistan. One notable event had been the ratification, without any reservation, of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2003. However, Gender Concerns International and many other international NGOs have remarked that in spite of the government´s good intent, the implementation of the CEDAW policies leave much to be desired.

The shortcomings of the CEDAW strategy implementation has been confirmed by the United Nations in its 2014 Gender Inequality Index which ranked Afghanistan as number 171 out of 187 countries in terms of gender equality.

Moreover, because of the current unstable and complex environment in Afghanistan, there is an acute lack of both freedom and support for women’s organisations to operate effectively. With alarm, Gender Concerns International has observed the deterioration of women’s rights in the country and stresses the need to remedy this crisis.

However, a number of changes in the political landscape have been implemented to aid gender equality in Afghanistan. One such change was the guaranteeing of women’s political participation under Afghanistan’s Constitution of 2004. Article 83 of the Constitution reserves 27% of seats in the lower house of the bicameral Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) for Afghan women with the intent of electing two women from each province into the lower house. Similarly, Article 84 guarantees women 50% of the seats in the upper house (Meshrano Jirga). During the 2014 elections, these provisions translated to 64 seats for female representatives out of a possible 249 seats in the lower house and 17 seats for female representatives out of a total of 34 seats in the upper house. Nevertheless, Gender Concerns International and other international NGOs has noted that the upper house has relatively little influence in Afghan society and politics. The organisation stresses the need for more capacity building programmes, in order to effectively include the voices of female parliamentarians in the political process. If female voices continue to be marginalized in Afghan society, Gender Concerns International fears any progressive reforms for the socio-political inclusion of women will be halted indefinitely.

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