What’s happening to women in Afghanistan?

Go to WLUML and click on EDHRA Newsletter Issue No 3 March 2012 for the full report.

  • 87% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate
  • 30% of girls have access to education in Afghanistan
  • 1 in every 3 Women in Afghanistan experience physical, psychological or sexual violence
  • 44 years is the average life expectancy rate for women in Afghanistan
  • 7080% of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan

What went wrong for Afghanistan’s women?

Women’s rights have been central to the war in Afghanistan. Remember when Cherie Blair and Laura Bush joined forces to bolster the rationale for invasion back in 2001? Suddenly, the west developed a passionate concern for the position of women in the country; there were films, books and documentaries about the high rates of maternal mortality, girls being married off young and low levels of female literacy. There was an assumption that it only required an invasion for women to spontaneously rise up and throw off their burqas. But change proved slower than expected. For several years, reporters were surprised to find that the burqa count on the streets of Kabul had not declined as fast as expected. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the invasion on 7 October 2001, there is a reckoning of what has been achieved for women and what has failed. And there is a growing realisation that recent developments are reversing earlier gains, and that – with only three and a half years before coalition forces withdraw – time is now running out. The biggest achievement has been in education, with 2.4 million girls in school, although there is still a high drop-out rate and the numbers going on to secondary school are small. But the fact is that the conservative nature of rural Afghanistan has not changed fundamentally. Over the past 10 years a colossal $57 bn has been spent in aid in Afghanistan, but it has not had any impact on the entrenched attitudes shaping women’s lives.

The security situation has become increasingly dangerous in the past few years. A recent attack on local staff employed by Oxfam, which led to three deaths, is believed to have been caused partly by the practice of employing women. Attacks on girls’ schools and women teachers continue. Foreign pressure ensured that the constitution and the country’s legal system enshrined women’s rights, but the reality is very different. There are only a handful of female judges and even when women do have the courage to take a case to the police, they face entrenched discrimination. Inevitably, after 10 years of huge investment and such a patchy record of achievement,

Mr Karzai, who has formally outlawed violence and discrimination against women, caused consternation on Tuesday 6

th March by publicly endorsing the statement, saying that it “reiterated Islamic principles and values” in supporting women.


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Afghanistan’s first deputy speaker Fawzia Koofi

When the invasion in Afghanistan took place in 2001, it was assumed burqa-clad women would become a thing of the past. It hasn’t happened. Photograph: Mauricio Lima/AFP

next month’s anniversary will provoke a lot of soul searching in aid agencies about what went wrong in Afghanistan.

Many NGOs now fear that, after western forces withdraw, it will become almost impossible to work in the country. Ten years on, the anniversary of the invasion is likely to be a sombre event, and it is very unlikely to talk much about women. Used as a rationale for invasion, the plight of women’s rights is increasingly an embarrassing failure.


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