On the occasion of International Women’s Day, on the 8th of March, Action for Development portraits the situation of women’s rights in Afghanistan taking into account political changes and the current peace talks.
Afghanistan was a country where women’s rights were in constant progress. Women’s right to vote was achieved as early as 1918, one year after the UK and one year before the US. Women were freely attending university, going to the cinema and were not restricted by a dress code.
Since the Soviet occupation in the 1970s , Afghanistan has suffered decades of internal conflict and political instability. Following decades of decline, women have also seen their rights increasingly reducing. But it was under the Taliban rule in the 90s that women’s rights were restricted even further. They were banned from going to school, from working, from leaving the house without being accompanied by a male family member, from showing their skin in public. The punishments for deviating from these rules were harsh and arbitrary, often leading to death.
One further repercussion was lack of access to healthcare. Not only were women banned from working in the healthcare sector, but their access to healthcare facilities was severely limited, as they were not allowed being treated by a male healthcare professional.
With the U.S. military intervention, starting in 2001, the Taliban regime was removed from power; however, today some regions of the country are still under their control.
Women have seen some progress in the last few years. There are currently women in Parliament, in fact 27,7% of seats are reserved for women, allowing their participation to the decision-making process. 2,5 million out of 8 million children attending school are now girls. The percentage of women in the working population reached the rate of 19% in 2016 (according to the UN) and the country has also seen a 15% reduction of maternal mortality (according to Amnesty International).
The current peace talks have raised the concern of a set-back for women’s rights due to the inclusion of members of the Taliban to the table.
« Afghan women are stronger, more informed, more educated and nobody would agree to coming back to the situation of Afghanistan in the 90s » claims Fawzia Koofi, president of the women’s rights and human rights commission in Parliament. She adds « I would like peace above all, but it should not come at the price of women’s condition ».
Action for Development aims at developing programmes directed at improving women’s rights in Afghanistan, including access to healthcare and training in the medical field.