For the occasion of International Women’s Day, taking place on the 8th of March, Action for Development has decided to draw a portrait of the situation regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan taking into account political changes and the actual peace talk.
Before the 70s, Afghanistan was a country in which women’s rights were in constant progress. Women’s right to vote was achieved one year after the UK and one year before the US in 1919 ! Women were not allowed to vote in some parts of Switzerland until 1971! Women were going to university, to the cinema and were even wearing skirts.
But the Soviet occupation in the 70s broke the peace and Afghanistan has seen decades of civil conflict since then. Through all these decades of instability, women had their rights rolled back increasingly. But under Taliban rule in the 90s women’s rights were eroded even further. They were banned from going to school, from working, from leaving the house without a male chaperone, from showing their skin in public. The punishments for infringements were harsh, sometimes resulting in death.
One further repercussion was lack of access to healthcare. Not only were women banned from working in healthcare, but their access to healthcare was cut off as they were not allowed to visit a male healthcare professional. (Action for Development’s programmes deal today with the repercussions of such a regime and work towards empowering women).
The American intervention, with the official statement to « improve women’s rights and to ban Taliban rules » began in 2001. The Taliban were ousted from power the same year.
Besides the fact that some regions in Afghanistan are still controlled by the Taliban today, women have seen progress in their conditions in the last few years. There are currently women at the parliament, indeed 27,7% of the seats are reserved for them, allowing the empowerment of women through taking part in serious decisions. 2,5 million out of 8 million children going to school are now girls. The percentage of women in the working population reached the rate of 19% in 2016 (according to the UN) The country has also seen a 15% reduction of maternal mortality (according to Amnesty).
The peace talk have increased the fear of a peace with a step back for women’s rights due to the Taliban. However, the Afghan people have changed and they will not allow a diminution of their rights, according to some human rights workers.
« Afghan women are stronger, more informed, more educated and nobody would agree to comeback in the Afghanistan of the 90s » claims Fawzia Koofi, president of the women’s rights and human’s rights commission at the parliament. She adds « I would like the peace above all else, but it should not come at the price of the women’s condition ».