Photo credits Emilio Morenatti

Photo credits: Emilio Morenatti

Afghanistan - Docs & News



28 Afghan human rights, women’s rights and civil society organisations and networks publish today an open letter to Ms. Navi Pillay, UN Human Rights Commissionerنسخه فارسی

Wednesday 25 September 2013                                                                                                                     

- See more at:                                           




Women in Afghanistan are coming together.

For over 11 years, Connect has supported effective Afghan women educators, doctors and health workers, lawyers and judges, and women in business. Connect has given direct financial support and in-depth, long-term business training to help expand and strengthen the organizations they run.

NOW – Connect is creating a dynamic internet forum where you can engage with these and other courageous women who speak the truth of their country in powerful ways.

To connect: http://www.afghanwomen


APN (Afghan Photography Network)
Beautiful local photos:
80% of the marriages in Afghanistan are not registered. This is a problem for women!
Marriage is often by force and not often by love!
(Sad) photos from refugee camp in Kabul:
Photo series "Faces of hope":

FB blog with beautiful photos:







Samira HamidiSamira Hamidi


I was the director of the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), which includes more than 91 women’s organizations and
5,000 individuals. Working with civil society organizations, government, and UN agencies, I have brought together thousands of voices to raise the visibility of women in Afghanistan through advocacy and networking initiatives. 


I have organized consultations across the country to enhance women’s ability to advocate for their participation in events that will shape the new Afghanistan, such as the 2010 National Peace Consultative Jirga, the 2010 Kabul International Conference, the 2011 Bonn Conference, the 2011 Loya Jirga, 2012 Tokyo Conference, and the formation of the High Peace Council. 
I previously served as a gender coordinator for the UN Development Programme and advocated successfully for the creation of a department within the Ministry of Interior to ensure that gender is considered in every policy decision. I organized the first trainings for senior ministry officials on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which requires that women be fully involved in every part of a peace process, and I led a six-week course for more than 300 police officers on ending violence against women. 
I received my bachelor’s degree in business administration from Preston University in Pakistan and am certified to train others using The Institute for Inclusive Security’s Women Waging Peace Curriculum. I received a national award in 2010 acknowledging AWN’s critical role in the peace process and received the Presidential Medal for my participation in the National Peace Consultative Jirga. 
I currently study International Human Rights Law at the University of York, UK, and I have engaged myself with SistaEnable, because I believe in the global impact of the SistaEnable (=sustaineable) ways.



Written by Helle Duus Alex.


Women's rights in Afghanistan


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Women's rights in Afghanistan
Women of Afghanistan.jpg
Women of Afghanistan in 2006
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value 0.712 (2012)
Rank 147th out of 148
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 460 (2010)
Women in parliament 27.6% (2012)
Females over 25 withsecondary education 5.8% (2010)
Women in labour force 15.7% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value NR (2012)
Rank NR out of 135
Part of a series on
Portal icon Feminism portal

Women's rights in Afghanistan have suffered through tremendous turmoil in the last[when?] three decades or in the last[when?] quarter of the past century. Through different rulers such as the mujahideen and the Taliban in the later part of the century, women have struggled to gain freedoms and reform a society that is primarily male dominant. Even today, violence against women in Afghanistan is high although the situation is improving slowly as the country progresses with the help of the international community.[3]

Overview[edit source | editbeta]

  1. Afghans lived in Afghanistan for over a thousand years. Of all of the ethnic groups,Pashtuns are the largest and then followed by Tajiks,HazarasUzbeks and others. From the 19th century and through the twentieth century the rulers of Afghanistan consistently attempted to lessen women's restrictions in the country. For the most part, these attempts were unsuccessful; however, there were a few leaders who were able to make some significant changes for the time period. Among them was King Amanullah, 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.[4]
Afghan women in the 1920s.
Afghan women in Kabul during the 1950s

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.[5] 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.[5] However, over time these restrictions became nearly impossible to enforce.

Modern social reform for Afghan women began when Queen Soraya 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. Credited with having been one of the first and most powerful Afghan and Muslim female activists. Her advocacy of social reforms for women led to a protest and contributed to the ultimate demise of King Amanullah's reign.[6]

Throughout the 20th century, Afghanistan continued to be a country dominated by tribes and men continued to have ultimate control over women. In 1973 the state was declared a republic and throughout the 1970s and 1980s a communist group called the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took over and attempted to once again reform the marriage laws, women's health laws, and encouraged women's education. During this time it made significant advances towards modernization.[7] 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.[8]The majority of women, however, lived in poverty and were excluded from these opportunities. In 1977, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) was founded by Meena Keshwar Kamal in Kabul but her office was moved to Quetta in neighboring Pakistan where she was assassinated in 1987.[9] RAWA still operates in the region of Pakistan and Afghanistan.[10]

Mujahideen and Taliban era[edit source | editbeta]

Further information: Taliban treatment of women
Taliban religious police beating a woman in Kabul filmed by RAWA on August 26, 2001.

In April 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 all the major Afghan anti-Soviet resistance parties except for the Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The Peshawar Accord, which enjoyed the support of parts of the ousted communist Najibullah administration and senior communist generals as well, established an interim government for a transitional period to be followed by general elections.[11] War in Afghanistan continued into a new phase when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar started a bombardment campaign against the Islamic State and the capital city Kabul. Hekmatyar was an extremist who in 1970 had thrown acid into the faces of women and shot them at Kabul University.[12]

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".[13] Women, however, remained in the workplace and the liberal provisions of the 1964 constitution were largely upheld. Only when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar gave up shelling Kabul and was integrated into the Islamic State as prime minister in 1996 were stricter restrictions imposed. He demanded for women who appeared on TV to be fired. During the violent four-year civil war many women had been kidnapped or raped. By the time one of the factions became victorious many people welcomed this new leading force known as the Taliban.[4]

Like their spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, the Taliban were poor villagers almost entirely educated in Wahhabi schools in neighboring Pakistan.[4]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 an education and were refused health care.[5] Many women were unable to leave their households at all because they could not afford a burqa or they no longer had any male relatives. These women were forced to stay at home and paint their windows so that no one could see in or out.[8] 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.

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.[8] This is because the Taliban required that women could be treated only by female physicians.[5] 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 often 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.[14] 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."[14]

NATO presence and the Karzai administration[edit source | editbeta]

Children at the HQ ISAF, Kabul Women's Bazaar with Laura Walko, civilian employee.

After the September 11th attacks on the United States, the U.S. led a bombing campaign on al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan that ultimately led to the overthrow of the Taliban in November 2001.[8] The Karzai administration, which is also dominated by Pashtuns, 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.[15]

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."[16]

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.[17] The BBC reports 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."

Politics and workforce[edit source | editbeta]

Female officers of the Afghan National Police.
Female lieutenants of the Afghan Air Force posing for camera in 2010

The most popular traditional work for women in Afghanistan is tailoring, and a large percentage of the population are professional tailors working from home.[18] Since 2002 women have gradually begun to work their way back towards being contributors to the economy. Some women becameentrepreneurs by starting own businesses. For example, Meena Rahmani became the first woman in Afghanistan to open a bowling center in Kabul.[19] Many others are employed by companies and small businesses.

In the last[when?] decade a large number of women became members of the National Assembly of Afghanistan (Afghan Parliament), such asShukria BarakzaiFauzia GailaniNilofar Ibrahimi[1]Fauzia KoofiMalalai Joya, and many others. Several women also took positions asministers, including Suhaila SeddiqiSima SamarHusn Banu Ghazanfar, and Soraya DalilHabiba Sarabi, who belongs to the minority Hazaragroup, became the first female governor in Afghanistan. She also served as Minister of Women's Affairs. Azra Jafari is a female mayor in Nili, the capital of Daykundi Province.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clintonstanding with Afghan female politicians, which includes Fauzia Koofi with the greenheadscarf on her right and Sima Samar to her left.
Afghan women at a textile factory in Kabul.
  1. Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which includes the Afghan National Police, have a number female officers. One of the Afghan National Army Brigadier generals is Khatol Mohammadzai. In 2012, Lt. Nilofar Rahmani became the first female pilot in the Afghan Air Force pilot training program to fly solo.[20] The number of female military and police officers are growing as more are being trained to perform their duty on an international level. Many believe that this will open doors for other institutions to hire women in the future.

Because Afghanistan has a struggling economy overwhelmed with massive unemployment and poverty, women often cannot find work where they receive sufficient pay.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5]

In terms of percentage women also 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.[5] 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.[5] 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. Since the economy is so weak, very few women can afford servants so they are forced to take care of all the household work primarily on their own.[5] Those who choose to work must labour twice as hard because they are essentially holding two jobs.

Education[edit source | editbeta]

Further information: Education in Afghanistan
Biology class at Kabul University during the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Education in Afghanistan is very low, especially for women. Approximately 15% of females can read and write but this is now increasing due to the high number of girls attending schools throughout the country.[21] As of 2011, there are around 8 million students in Afghanistan, 37% of them are females.[22][23] About 82,000 students are enrolled in different universities around the country.[23]

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.[5] 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.[5]

Afghan female students outside Kabul Medical University
Female students using the internet atHerat University in the western Afghan city of Herat.
Women painting at the Center for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan (CCAA) in Kabul.

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.[5] 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.[8] 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.[8]

The Taliban are still opposed to education for Afghan boys and girls. The 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.[24] During the same period, Pakistan has been refusing to deliver Afghan bound school text books.[25]

Sport[edit source | editbeta]

[icon] This section requires expansion.(January 2013)
Further information: Sport in Afghanistan

In the last decade Afghan females have participated in various types of sports.

Marriage and parenting[edit source | editbeta]

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.[26] A man can divorce without needing his wife's agreement.[27]

Arranged marriages are common for women in Afghanistan and they are done mostly for political and economic reasons. A girl's father has the ultimate authority over who he believes his daughter should marry. It is not uncommon for girls to be engaged even before they are born. Girls are often married off at a very young age to wealthy men who are much older than themselves. Reports have even indicated that in the most poverty-stricken areas of rural Afghanistan, families have been reduced to selling their daughters to much older men in exchange for food.

After a marriage is arranged, the two families sign an engagement contract that both parties are socially and culturally obligated to honor. After this contract is signed, the bride is forbidden to marry another man.[28] If the bride dies before the marriage, her family is required to give her sister as a bride or find another desirable replacement.[28]

It is common among low-income families in most areas of the country for the groom to pay a bride price to the bride's family.[26] 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.[26] There have been many instances where a family is so stricken by poverty that a father will betroth his daughters to multiple men and collect the bride price from each of them.[26] The resulting disputes, although addressed by the courts, often lead to violent reprisals. Girls are sometimes also bartered in a traditional method of dispute resolution called baad that proponents say helps avoid violence between families, although the girls themselves are often subject to considerable violence both before and after marrying into a family through baad.[29]

In many cases, once a girl is married she becomes the property of her new family and continues to have little to no control over her situation. In family matters, the girl's mother-in-law and her husband have the most control. In most cases, it is the mother-in-law, who decides whether or not her pregnant daughter-in-law should go to the hospital or not.[5]

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."[27] 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.[30] 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.[30]

Burqa and chador[edit source | editbeta]

Further information: Burqa and Chador
The wife of a former governor of Bamiyan in 18th century, Afghaun ladies exercised more control over their husbands than is usual in Eastern countries
  1. burqa is a long garment, covering the entire body, with only a cloth grid allowing the wearer to see out. An early record of this dress was made during the British exploration of Afghanistan in the First Anglo-Afghan War when some officers made lithographs picturing the burqa. During the Taliban regime in the 1990s all women in Afghanistan were forced to wear the burqa in public places.[7]

A burqa is extremely hot to wear and this produces a bad odor inside. Wearers may feel claustrophobic and are at higher risk for asthma.[31] Dust kicked up from the streets sticks to the cloth in front of the mouth that becomes damp from breathing, leading to a sense of suffocation in stale air.[31] The mesh opening severely restricts one's range of vision and is said to be like wearing horse blinders. Consequently, women wearing the burqa often have difficulty even seeing where they are going.

It is impossible to tell whether a woman wearing a burqa is smiling or crying or showing any other emotion. Women say that this leads to a feeling of being completely invisible.[7] Women outside the major cities still wear the burqa, more than ten years after the end of the Taliban regime.

See also[edit source | editbeta]

External links[edit source | editbeta]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Women of Afghanistan

References[edit source | editbeta]

  1. ^; padding-right: 18px; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">"Human Development Report". United Nations Development Programme. 2013. p. 156.
  2. ^; padding-right: 18px; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">"The Global Gender Gap Report 2012". World Economic Forum. pp. 10–11.
  3. ^ "Four Afghan Men Held in Acid Attack on Family"ALISSA J. RUBIN and ROD NORDLAND. The New York Times. December 10, 2011.
  4. a b c Keddie, Nikki R. (2007). Women in the Middle East. Princeton University Press.ISBN 978-0-691-12863-4.
  5. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Skaine, Rosemarie (2008-09-23). Women of Afghanistan In The Post-Taliban Era: How Lives Have Changed and Where They Stand Today. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-3792-4.
  6. ^; padding-right: 18px; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; ">"A History of Women in Afghanistan: Lessons Learnt for the Future". Dr. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh. Aletta, Institute for Women's History. May 2003. Retrieved 2 December 2010.
  7. a b c Armstrong, Sally (2003-01-06). Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan. Seal Press. ISBN 978-1-56858-252-8.
  8. a b c d e f Rostami-Povey, Elaheh (2007-10-16). Afghan Women: Identity and Invasion. Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84277-856-2.
  9. ^ Toynbee, Polly (September 28, 2001). "Behind the burka"The Guardian.
  10. ^ "About RAWA". Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.
  11. ^ Amin SaikalModern 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.
  12. ^ Nikki R. Keddie. Women in the Middle East: Past and Present. p. 118.
  13. ^ William Maley. Fundamentalism Reborn?: Afghanistan and the Taliban. p. 207.
  14. a b "Lifting The Veil On Taliban Sex Slavery"Time Magazine. 2002-02-10.
  15. ^ Elizabeth Rubin. 'Veiled Rebellion', National Geographic Magazine. December 2010.
  16. ^ Associated Press in Kabul (6 March 2012). "Hamid Karzai backs clerics' move to limit Afghan women's rights". The Guardian.
  17. ^ Telegraph (9 March 2012). "Hamid Karzai under fire on Afghan women's rights". Telegraph.
  18. ^ Afghan women struggle to make ends meet as tailors
  19. ^ In Kabul, a bowling center offers respite from war
  20. ^ "U.S. training helps Afghan female pilot go solo". Air Force Times. October 22, 2012. Retrieved 2013-01-05. "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."
  21. ^ Rising literacy in Afghanistan ensures transition. By Rob McIlvaine, ARNEWS. June 13, 2011.
  22. ^ "ISAF Spokesman Discusses Progress in Afghanistan"International Security Assistance Force/NATO. July 25, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2011.
  23. a b "Education"United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Retrieved August 11, 2011.
  24. ^ Zarghona Salehi, ed. (June 7, 2012). "15 held for poisoning schoolgirls: Mashal". Pajhwok Afghan News.
  25. ^ Zarghona Salehi, ed. (June 7, 2012). "Afghan students to Pakistan: Release our books". Pajhwok Afghan News.
  26. a b c d Hafizullah, Emadi (2002-08-30). Repression, Resistance, and Women in Afghanistan. Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-97671-2.
  27. a b "Divorce, suicide; ‘Hell’ in Herat"Golnar Motevalli. Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. June 7, 2012.
  28. a b Rodriguez, Deborah (2007-04-10). Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil. Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6559-2.
  29. ^ Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Afghan Girls Suffer for Sins of Male Relatives, 26 March 2009, ARR No. 317, available at: [accessed 5 December 2010]
  30. a b Rora Asim Khan (Aurora Nilsson): Anders Forsberg och Peter Hjukström: Flykten från harem, Nykopia, Stockholm 1998. ISBN 91-86936-01-8.
  31. a b Swift Yasgur, Batya (2002-09-30). Behind the Burqa: Our Life in Afghanistan and How We Escaped to Freedom. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-26389-0.