Women's rights in Afghanistan

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Women's rights in Afghanistan
Women of Afghanistan.jpg
Women of Afghanistan in 2000
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.712 (2012)
Rank 147th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 460 (2010)
Women in parliament 27.6% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 5.8% (2010)
Women in labour force 16% (2014)[1]
Global Gender Gap Index
Value NR (2012)
Rank NR out of 144

Women's rights in Afghanistan are slowly improving.[2][3][4] Through different former rulers such as the mujahideen and the Taliban in the later part of the 20th century, women had very little to no freedom, specifically in terms of civil liberties. Since the Taliban administration of Afghanistan fell in 2001, women's rights have significantly improved under the newly-formed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and are much better than they were under former governments.

Overview[edit]

Afghan women in the 1920s.
Afghan women in Kabul during the 1950s

Afghanistan's population is roughly 29.2 million.[5] Of this, 15 million are males and 14.2 million are females.[6] About 22% of the Afghan people are urbanite and the remaining 78% live in rural areas.[7] As part of local tradition, most females are married soon after completing high school. They live as housewives for the remainder of their life.[8]

Rulers of Afghanistan have consistently attempted to increase women's freedom. For the most part, these attempts were unsuccessful; however, there were a few leaders who were able to make some significant changes. Among them was Amanullah Khan, who ruled from 1919 to 1929 and made some of the more noteworthy changes in an attempt to unify as well as modernize the country.[9]

King Amanullah, along with other rulers following him, promoted freedom for women in the public sphere in order to lessen the control that patriarchal families had over women. King Amanullah stressed the importance for young girls and women to receive an education. Along with encouraging families to send their daughters to school, he promoted the unveiling of women and persuaded them to adopt a more western style of dress.[10] In 1921, he created a law that abolished forced marriage, child marriage, bride price, and put restrictions on polygamy, a common practice among households in Afghanistan.[10] However, over time these restrictions became nearly impossible to enforce.

Modern social reform for Afghan women began when Queen Soraya, wife of King Amanullah, made rapid reforms to improve women's lives and their position in the family. She was the only woman to appear on the list of rulers in Afghanistan and was credited with having been one of the first and most powerful Afghan and Muslim female activists. Queen Soraya, along with her husband's, advocacy of social reforms for women led to a protest and contributed to the ultimate demise of her and her husband's reign.[11]

Throughout the 20th century, Afghanistan continued to be a nation dominated by tribes and men continued to have ultimate control over women. In 1973 the state was declared a republic by the progressive Mohammed Daoud Khan. One of his main focuses was break free from the ultra-conservative, Islamist tradition of treating women as second-class citizens. During his time he made significant advances towards modernization.[12] Minorities of women were able to hold jobs as scientists, teachers, doctors, and civil servants and had a considerable amount of freedom with significant educational opportunities.[13] The majority of women, however, lived as housewives and were excluded from these opportunities. In 1977, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) was founded by Meena Keshwar Kamal. Her office was moved to Quetta in Pakistan, where she was assassinated in 1987.[14] RAWA still operates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.[15]

Afghan Women's Council[edit]

The Afghan Women's Council (AWC) (also known as the Women's Council) was an organization under the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1978-87) and the Republic of Afghanistan between (1987-1992). Until 1989 the leader of the organization was Masuma Esmati-Wardak, Wardak was not a member of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and in 1991 she became Minister of Education.[16] The organization was run by Wardak and a staff of eight women. Some of these staff members were also members of the PDPA. When the communist regime in 1978 under Nur Muhammad Taraki the government gave equal rights to women. Women now had the ability to choose their husbands, education-- they had the ability to make decisions about their own lives.[17] The membership of the AWC was around 150,000 around the country and had branches and bases in all Afghan provinces with the exception of Wardak and Katawaz. Most of the women in Kabul resisted the Mujahideen because of their retrogressive laws concerning women.[16]

The AWC provided social services to women in Afghanistan, in the fight against illiteracy and vocational training for those in the Secretary, hairdressing and workshop fields. Many feared the sacrificing of the AWC in the national reconciliation talks which started in 1987.[17]

One of the post important AWC programmes was their fight for the literacy and education of girls. According to AWC survey in 1991 estimated around 7 thousand women were in the institution of higher education and around 230,000 girls studying in schools around Afghanistan. According to the survey there existed around 190 female professors and 22,000 female teachers in the country.[17]

Mujahideen and Taliban era[edit]

[18]In 1992, the peace and power-sharing agreement Peshawar Accord established the post-communist era Islamic State of Afghanistan. It was signed on 24 April 1992 by a number of the major Afghan anti-Soviet resistance parties except for the Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The accord established an interim government for a transitional period to be followed by general elections.[19] War in Afghanistan continued into a new phase when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar started a bombardment campaign against the Islamic State and the capital city Kabul. It is reported that in 1970 Hekmatyar had thrown acid into the faces of women and shot them at Kabul University.[20]

The restrictions imposed when the Islamic State was established were "the ban of alcohol and the enforcement of a sometimes-purely-symbolic veil for women".[21] Women, however, remained in the workplace and the liberal provisions of the 1964 constitution were largely upheld. Women began to be more restricted after Hekmatyar was integrated into the Islamic State as Afghan Prime Minister in 1996. He demanded for women who appeared on TV to be fired. During the violent four-year civil war a number of women had been kidnapped and some of them raped. By the time one of the factions became victorious many people welcomed this new leading force known as the Taliban.[9]

Taliban religious police beating a woman in Kabul filmed by RAWA on 26 August 2001.

Like their spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, the Taliban administrators were poor villagers almost entirely educated in Wahhabi schools in neighboring Pakistan.[9] Immediately after coming into power, the Taliban declared that women were forbidden to go to work and they were not to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male family member. When they did go out it was required that they had to wear an all-covering burqa. Under these restrictions, women were denied formal education.[10] Some women were unable to leave their households at all because they could not afford a burqa or they no longer had any male relatives. Women were usually forced to stay at home and paint their windows so that no one could see in or out.[13] During the Taliban's five-year rule, women in Afghanistan were essentially put under house arrest. Some women who once held respectable positions were forced to wander the streets in their burqas selling everything they owned or begging in order to survive. The United Nations refused to recognize the Taliban government, with the United States imposing heavy sanctions on them, similar as those placed on North Korea. This led to extreme hardship on all the citizens of Afghanistan.

Because most teachers had been women before the Taliban regime, the new restrictions on women's employment created a huge lack of teachers, which put an immense strain on the education of both boys and girls. Although women were banned from most jobs, including teaching, some women in the medical field were allowed to continue working.[13] This is because the Taliban required that women could be treated only by female physicians.[10] Moreover, for several reasons, it was difficult for women to seek medical attention. It was extremely frowned upon for women to need to go to a hospital, and those who did try to go to a hospital were usually beaten. Even when a woman was able to make it to a hospital she had no guarantee that she would be seen by a doctor.

Several Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders ran a network of human trafficking, abducting women and selling them into forced prostitution and slavery in Afghanistan and Pakistan.[22] Time Magazine writes: "The Taliban often argued that the brutal restrictions they placed on women were actually a way of revering and protecting the opposite sex. The behavior of the Taliban during the six years they expanded their rule in Afghanistan made a mockery of that claim."[22]

21st century[edit]

Afghan women inside the Gardens of Babur in Kabuul

After the removal of the Taliban regime from Afghanistan a new government was formed. The Karzai administration has relaxed policies around women's rights, and in Kabul women can be seen driving cars and engaging in other activities that they would have previously been banned from participating in.[23]

In March 2012, President Hamid Karzai endorsed a "code of conduct" which was issued by the Ulema Council. Some of the rules state that "women should not travel without a male guardian and should not mingle with strange men in places such as schools, markets and offices." Karzai said that the rules were in line with Islamic law and that the code of conduct was written in consultation with Afghan women's group."[24]

Rights organizations and women activists say that by endorsing this code of conduct Karzai is endangering "hard-won progress in women's right since the Taliban fell from power in 2001.[25] The BBC reported that a number of women have reacted to the endorsement with humour. One Afghan woman working in London posted on Facebook "Ladies, you should not surface on Facebook without a male partner."[citation needed]

The overall situation for Afghan women has improved in the last decade, particularly in the major urban areas, but those living in rural parts of the country still face many problems. In 2013, a female Indian author Sushmita Banerjee was killed in Paktika province by militants for allegedly defying Taliban diktats. She was married to an Afghan businessman and had recently relocated to Afghanistan. Earlier she had escaped two instances of execution by the Taliban in 1995 and later fled to India. Her book based on her escape from Taliban was also filmed in a Bollywood film.[26]

Human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch[3][27] and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom[4] have expressed concern at women's rights in the country.

In 2013 the United Nations published statistics showing a 20% increase in violence against women, often due to domestic violence being justified by conservative religion and culture. In February 2014 Afghanistan passed a law that includes a provision that limits the ability of government to compel some family members to be witnesses to domestic violence. Human Rights Watch describes the implementation of the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women as "poor," noting that some cases are ignored. In 2013 four female police officers were killed. The same year, some parliamentarians proposed removing the minimum age of marriage. A 2011 government report found that 25 percent of the women and girls diagnosed with fistula were younger than 16 when they married.[28][29]

On March 19, 2015 Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old Afghan woman, was publicly beaten and slain by a mob of hundreds of people in Kabul on a false accusation of Quran desecration.[30][31][32] A number of prominent public officials turned to Facebook immediately after the death to endorse the murder.[33] After it was revealed that she did not burn the Quran, the public reaction in Afghanistan turned to shock and anger.[34][35] Her murder and the subsequent protests served to draw attention to women's rights in Afghanistan.[36]

Politics and workforce[edit]

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton standing with Afghan female politicians, which includes Fauzia Koofi with the green headscarf on her right and Sima Samar to her left.

A number of women served as members of the Afghan Parliament, including Shukria Barakzai, Fauzia Gailani, Nilofar Ibrahimi,[37] Fauzia Koofi, Malalai Joya, and many others. Several women also took positions as ministers, including Suhaila Seddiqi, Sima Samar, Husn Banu Ghazanfar, and Suraya Dalil. Habiba Sarabi became the first female governor in Afghanistan. She also served as Minister of Women's Affairs. Azra Jafari became the first female mayor of Nili, the capital of Daykundi Province.

Female officers of the Afghan National Police.
Female lieutenants of the Afghan Air Force posing for camera in 2010
Machine embroidery is very popular in Afghanistan, almost every household owns a sewing machine.

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which includes the Afghan National Police, have a growing number of female officers. One of the Afghan National Army Brigadier generals is Khatol Mohammadzai. In 2012, Niloofar Rahmani became the first female pilot in the Afghan Air Force pilot training program to fly solo.[38] Other notable Afghan women include Roya Mahboob, Aziza Siddiqui, Mary Akrami, Suraya Pakzad, Wazhma Frogh, Shukria Asil, Shafiqa Quraishi, Maria Bashir, Maryam Durani, Malalai Bahaduri, and Nasrin Oryakhil. In 2015, a 17-year-old Negin Khpolwak became Afghanistan's first female music conductor.[39]

The most popular traditional work for women in Afghanistan is tailoring, and a large percentage of the population are professional tailors working from home.[40] Since the fall of the Taliban women have returned to work in Afghanistan. Some women became entrepreneurs by starting own businesses. For example, Meena Rahmani became the first woman in Afghanistan to open a bowling center in Kabul.[41] Many others are employed by companies and small businesses.

Because Afghanistan has a struggling economy overwhelmed with massive unemployment and poverty, women often cannot find work where they receive sufficient pay.[10] One area of the economy where women do play a significant role is in agriculture. Of the 80 percent of Afghans employed in the agriculture field or similar occupations, 30 percent of them are women.[10] In some areas in Afghanistan, women may spend as much time working on the land as men do, but still often earn three times less than men in wages.[10] According to World Bank, in 2014, women made up 16.1% of the labor force in Afghanistan.[42]

In terms of percentage women rank high in the fields of medicine and media, and are slowly working their way into the field of justice. Because women are still highly encouraged to consult a female physician when they go to the hospital, nearly fifty percent of all Afghans in the medical profession are women.[10] The number of women having professions in the media is also rising. Currently there are more than ten television stations that have all female anchors as well as female producers.[10] As women are given more opportunities in education and the workforce, more of them are turning towards careers in medicine, media, and justice.

However, even the women that are given the opportunity to have careers have to struggle to balance their home life with their work life, as household tasks are seen as primarily female duties. Since the economy is so weak, very few women can afford to hire domestic helpers, so they are forced to take care of all the household work primarily on their own.[10] Those who choose to work must labour twice as hard because they are essentially holding two jobs.

Education[edit]

Female students using the internet at Herat University in the western Afghan city of Herat.
Female school students in Samangan Province (2006)

Education in Afghanistan is very poor but slowly improving. The literacy rate for females is merely 24.2%.[5] There are around 9 million students in the country. Of this, about 60% are males and 40% females. Over 174,000 students are enrolled in different universities around the country. About 21% of these are females.[43]

Biology class at Kabul University during the late 1950s or early 1960s.

In the early twentieth century, education for women was extremely rare due to the lack of schools for girls. Occasionally girls were able to receive an education on the primary level but they never moved past the secondary level.[10] During Zahir Shah's reign (1933-1973) education for women became a priority and young girls began being sent to schools. At these schools, girls were taught discipline, new technologies, ideas, and socialization in society.[10]

Kabul University was opened to girls in 1947 and by 1973 there was an estimated 150,000 girls in schools across Afghanistan. Unfortunately, marriage at a young age added to the high drop out rate but more and more girls were entering professions that were once viewed as only being for men.[10] Women were being given new opportunities to earn better lives for both themselves and their families. However, in the after the civil war and the takeover by the Taliban, women were stripped of these opportunities and sent back to lives where they were to stay at home and be controlled by their husbands and fathers.

During the Taliban regime, many women who had previously been teachers began secretly giving an education to young girls (as well as some boys) in their neighborhoods, teaching from ten to sixty children at a time.[13] The homes of these women became community homes for students, and were entirely financed and managed by women. News about these secret schools spread through word of mouth from woman to woman. Each day young girls would hide all their school supplies, such as books, notebooks and pencils, underneath their burqas to go to school. At these schools, young females were taught basic literary skills, numeracy skills, and various other subjects such as biology, chemistry, English, Quranic Studies, cooking, sewing, and knitting. Many women involved in teaching were caught by the Taliban and persecuted, jailed, and tortured.[13]

The Taliban are still opposed to education for Afghan boys and girls. They are burning down schools, killing students and teachers by all kinds of means, including chemical warfare. For example, in June 2012, fifteen suspects were detained by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) "in connection with the serial anti-school attacks in northern Afghanistan." The NDS believes that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence was behind the idea.[44] During the same period, Pakistan has been refusing to deliver Afghan bound school text books.[45]

In 2015 the Kabul University began the first master's degree course in gender and women’s studies in Afghanistan.[46]

Sport[edit]

In the last decade Afghan women have participated in various types of sports including futsal, football, and basketball. In 2015 Afghanistan held its first marathon; among those who ran the entire marathon was one woman, Zainab, age 25, who thus became the first Afghan woman to run in a marathon within her own country.[47]

Marriage and parenting[edit]

Mother's Day in Afghanistan
Mother with her children on Mothers' Day in Kabul

Afghanistan is a patriarchal society where it is commonly believed that men are entitled to make decisions for women, include those pertaining to engagement and marriage.[48] A man can divorce without needing his wife's agreement, whereas the opposite is not true.[49]

The country has a high total fertility rate, at 5.33 children born/woman as of 2015.[5] Contraception use is low: 21.2% of women, as of 2010/11.[5]

Arranged marriages are very common in this part of the world. In Afghanistan, it is literally the only way. After a marriage is arranged, the two families sign an engagement contract that both parties are socially and culturally obligated to honor. It is common among low-income families for the groom to pay a bride price to the bride's family.[48] The price is negotiated among the heads of the family; the bride herself is not included in the negotiation process. The bride price is viewed as compensation for the money that the bride's family has had to spend on her care and upbringing.[48]

In certain areas females are sometimes bartered in a method of dispute resolution called baad that proponents say helps avoid enmity and violence between families, although the females themselves are sometimes subject to considerable violence both before and after marrying into a family through baad. The practice of baad is considered illegal in Afghanistan.[50]

Under the Afghan law, "if a woman seeks a divorce then she has to have the approval of her husband and needs witnesses who can testify in court that the divorce is justified."[49] The first occurrence of a woman divorcing a man in Afghanistan was the divorce initiated by Rora Asim Khan, who divorced her husband in 1927.[51] This was described as unique at the time it occurred, but this was an exception, as Rora Asim Khan was a foreign citizen, who obtained her divorce by assistance from the German embassy.[51]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.ACTI.FE.ZS/countries
  2. ^ "Four Afghan Men Held in Acid Attack on Family". ALISSA J. RUBIN and ROD NORDLAND. The New York Times. 10 December 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "World Report 2014: Afghanistan". Human Rights Watch. 
  4. ^ a b "USCIRF Annual Report 2014 – Tier 2: Afghanistan". United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. 30 April 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Afghanistan". The World Factbook. www.cia.gov. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  6. ^ http://www.pajhwok.com/en/node/483787
  7. ^ Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada, ed. (November 20, 2011). "Afghanistan's population reaches 26m". Pajhwok Afghan News. Retrieved December 5, 2011. 
  8. ^ http://www.cmi.no/publications/file/5299-working-with-gender-in-rural-afghanistan.pdf
  9. ^ a b c Keddie, Nikki R. (2007). Women in the Middle East. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-12863-4. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Skaine, Rosemarie (23 September 2008). Women of Afghanistan In The Post-Taliban Era: How Lives Have Changed and Where They Stand Today. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-3792-4. 
  11. ^ "A History of Women in Afghanistan: Lessons Learnt for the Future" (PDF). Dr. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh. Aletta, Institute for Women's History. May 2003. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  12. ^ Armstrong, Sally (6 January 2003). Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan. Seal Press. ISBN 978-1-56858-252-8. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Rostami-Povey, Elaheh (16 October 2007). Afghan Women: Identity and Invasion. Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84277-856-2. 
  14. ^ Toynbee, Polly (28 September 2001). "Behind the burka". The Guardian. 
  15. ^ "About RAWA". Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. 
  16. ^ a b Mary Ann Tétreault. "Women and revolution in Africa, Asia, and the New World". Google Books. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  17. ^ a b c Lawrence Kaplan. "Fundamentalism in comparative perspective". Google Books. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  18. ^ "Women in Afghanistan: the back story". www.amnesty.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-02-25. 
  19. ^ Amin Saikal. Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival (2006 1st ed.). I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., London New York. pp. 214–215. ISBN 1-85043-437-9. 
  20. ^ Nikki R. Keddie. Women in the Middle East: Past and Present. p. 118. 
  21. ^ William Maley. Fundamentalism Reborn?: Afghanistan and the Taliban. p. 207. 
  22. ^ a b "Lifting The Veil On Taliban Sex Slavery". Time Magazine. 10 February 2002. 
  23. ^ Elizabeth Rubin. 'Veiled Rebellion', National Geographic Magazine. December 2010.
  24. ^ "Hamid Karzai backs clerics' move to limit Afghan women's rights". The Guardian. London. 6 March 2012. 
  25. ^ "Hamid Karzai under fire on Afghan women's rights". The Daily Telegraph. London. 9 March 2012. 
  26. ^ "Indian Author Sushmita Banerjee killed by Taliban in Afghanistan". Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  27. ^ "World Report 2015: Afghanistan". Human Rights Watch. 
  28. ^ "Afghanistan: Child Marriage, Domestic Violence Harm Progress". Human Rights Watch. 4 September 2013. 
  29. ^ "Escaping Child Marriage in Afghanistan". UNFPA. 4 October 2012. 
  30. ^ "Family of Afghan woman lynched by mob demands justice". AlJazeera. 2 Apr 2015. 
  31. ^ The Killing of Farkhunda. New York Times. 
  32. ^ Rasmussen, Sune Engel (23 March 2015). "Farkhunda's family take comfort from tide of outrage in wake of her death". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  33. ^ Shalizi, Hamid; Donati, Jessica (20 March 2015). "Afghan cleric and others defend lynching of woman in Kabul". Reuters. Reuters. Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  34. ^ Moore, Jack (23 March 2015). "Afghans Protest Brutal Mob Killing of ‘Innocent’ Woman". Newsweek. Newsweek. Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  35. ^ "WHAT’S THE FUTURE FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN AFGHANISTAN?". EqualTimes.org. 14 Apr 2015. 
  36. ^ http://hambastagi.org/new/english-section/reports/1481-a-memorial-to-farkhunda-appears-in-kabul-22-oct-2015.html
  37. ^ US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan (20 March 2011). "Untitled | Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Secure.flickr.com. Retrieved 10 November 2015. 
  38. ^ "U.S. training helps Afghan female pilot go solo". Air Force Times. 22 October 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2013. She is one of five pilot trainees in UPT Class 12-03 — the class has months of training ahead prior to receiving their wings and will graduate next summer. She has received accolades from the Afghan public and is viewed as a positive role model for Afghan females. 
  39. ^ "Afghanistan's first female conductor". BBC.com. 10 November 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015. 
  40. ^ Afghan women struggle to make ends meet as tailors
  41. ^ In Kabul, a bowling center offers respite from war
  42. ^ http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.TOTL.FE.ZS
  43. ^ "Education". United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Retrieved 2017-05-26. 
  44. ^ Zarghona Salehi, ed. (6 June 2012). "15 held for poisoning schoolgirls: Mashal". Pajhwok Afghan News. 
  45. ^ Zarghona Salehi, ed. (12 May 2012). "Afghan students to Pakistan: Release our books". Pajhwok Afghan News. 
  46. ^ FaithWorld (26 October 2015). "Kabul University unlikely host for first Afghan women’s studies programme". Blogs.reuters.com. Retrieved 2 November 2015. 
  47. ^ "Feminist Daily News 10/29/2015: Afghan Woman Runs in Country's First Marathon". Feminist.org. 29 October 2015. Retrieved 2 November 2015. 
  48. ^ a b c Hafizullah, Emadi (30 August 2002). Repression, Resistance, and Women in Afghanistan. Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-97671-2. 
  49. ^ a b "Divorce, suicide; ‘Hell’ in Herat". Golnar Motevalli. Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. 23 July 2009. 
  50. ^ "Afghan Girls Suffer for Sins of Male Relatives". Wahida Paykan. Institute for War and Peace Reporting. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 2017-05-26. 
  51. ^ a b Rora Asim Khan (Aurora Nilsson): Anders Forsberg och Peter Hjukström: Flykten från harem, Nykopia, Stockholm 1998. ISBN 91-86936-01-8.

External links[edit]