Dossier 17: Women’s Rights in the Current Political Backdrop of Afghanistan

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Afghan Women's Network
September 1997
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Violence against women is one of the sharp indicators of the subordinate position of women in the society. Violence exists in different forms, different levels from personal to physical violence to structural violence, justified by religion, culture and laws. Most of the steps taken from the protection of women against violence tend in addressing the women rather than men. These steps don’t enforce laws or take action against men.

The women issues are political issues. The social paradigms don’t recognize this. The ideology and culture don’t recognize the women as political beings.

Violence against women has always existed in Afghanistan. Violence is commonplace in the daily lives of the Afghan women, however it escalates during racial or political violence when other groups also entered the conflict. In time of crisis (political economic or community strife), the family tends to exert greater control over women, there is a state and social repression of women, and an increase in violence against women.

In a conflictive situation like that of Afghanistan, all forms of violence have taken the shape of political violence. Furthermore, the lack of any law and order has made it impossible to categorize violence committed against women as social, religious, cultural, racial or political. Conflicts affect men and women differently, putting increased burdens on women, has led to the increased oppression of women by the families and society.

Legal aid is non-existent for Afghan women. The authorities of a particular area usually have their words as laws written in stone, never to be changed and obeyed by all. Violence against women, be it physical or political, is high. There have been times when women were imprisoned and used as sexual slaves and later their body parts were removed one by one as the women still lived and finally the remains of the body was disposed in the streets. War and anarchy produced the trafficking of women across the country. The women of Afghanistan have not come a long way from these times. They have gained security from such atrocities at a price of being confined to the limitation of their homes.


Afghanistan is a small country which is situated in Central Asia. It is one of the poorest and the most underdeveloped nation of the world. The majority of the inhabitants practice Islamic faith, with a greater part of them belonging to the Sunni sect.

The country is home to many different ethnic groups and tribes. Although the different ethnic groups have co-existed for centuries, their attitude and behavior has not been necessarily friendly towards each other. The ethnic groups suffer a large degree of differences between each other. The religious, cultural, social and political behavior of these ethnic groups differ from one another.

The political and power scene of the country has always been dominated by a single ethnic group. This position has been held by the Pushtoons since the last two centuries. The dominant ethnic group has either deliberately or un-deliberately tried to enforce its own culture, religion and ethics on the sub-ordinate groups. This situation has often given rise to permanent and prolonged conflicts which have played a major role in hampering the progress of Afghanistan.

The Afghan society still follows the primitive codes of conduct set since prehistoric times, for e.g. the patriarchal system of families. The women in Afghanistan have extremely low secondary status to men. Because Afghanistan is a multi-racial country, it is therefore multicultural, with some tribes following their own codes and ethics.

Dictatorship and misinterpretation of religion have given limited rights to women. However, 30 to 35 years ago, partial democracy was introduced into the country and a constitution was drawn up in which women were allocated limited rights. Under this change in the constitution women were granted the freedom of obtaining all forms of education, and they could contest and participate in elections.

Having easy access to education, the women living in cities made rapid progress. But unfortunately, those living in the rural areas could not avail the opportunity given by the constitution.

After the invasion of the Russians in the country, the constitution lost its efficiency and a state of war and havoc settled among the nation. Countries interested in Afghanistan for various reasons began to fight a proxy war between each other to which some emerged as winners at the expense of the Afghan nation.

After the fall of Dr. Najib’s regime, complete anarchy settled over the country and fundamentalists acceded to the country’s control. The change resulted in an increase in the cases of violence against women whether it be social, political or physical. Insecurity and endless anarchy created discontentment among the population paving the ground for the emergence of the Taliban.

Emergence of Taliban:

The Taliban (literally meaning religious students) stepped into the congested and unstable political scenario of the country nearly two years ago. Their presence was noted first in the areas of the Kandahar province bordering Pakistan. The emergence of the Taliban was followed by a series of rapid military victories which carried them right through and made them the unchallenged rulers of almost 2/3 of Afghanistan. In the beginning the people were generally content with the Taliban administration since they introduced the much needed security and peace into the area.

There is no doubt that no war can be fought inside Afghanistan without external support. The same must be true in the case of Taliban. However, the question of whose the hand behind the Taliban is a subject of much debate.

Present Situation and the Women Right Issues:

Currently Afghanistan is divided into three political regions:

• North and Central Afghanistan: This area is administered by the union of General Dostum’s Uzbek militia and the Hazara Dominated Hezb-e-Wahdat party.

• North-East: A cluster of a few provinces represent the total administered area of the ousted Government of President Rabani.

• West-Southern and East: This area is administered by the Taliban.

Women living in the first instant live in a much more liberally administered area. Here education is freely accessible to women and they can participate in jobs without much restriction.

In the areas administered by the Taliban, peace and security is maintained according to the strict provisions of the Islamic law or "Shariah". Unfortunately, the "Shariah" is interpreted as total obscurity of women from the society. They have issued strict order that women should not venture out of their homes without the cover of the veil and under no circumstances they may be allowed to participate in jobs. Educational institutions for girls have been closed and the admission of female students in prohibited in any institution irrespective of the level.

These restrictions inflicted by the Taliban are a direct measure that is intended for limiting the activities of the women inside the walls of their homes. The women of Afghanistan on various instances have expressed their dissatisfaction at the social oblivion to which they are being subjected. The women who have dared to defy the above restrictions have been subjected to harsh beatings or warned of dire consequences and chastisement.


Bearing in mind that after the years of killings which have plagued Afghanistan, the country has not more than a few cases of widows and families whose only bread winners are women. Under conditions where the Taliban have enforced their rules, such families are condemned to starving to death since the women are under no circumstances are allowed to participate in jobs. Furthermore, the banning of girls from being educated is also a violation of the basic human rights which entitle every human being to the right of being educated.

The above two instances portray only a small part of the picture in which the rights of the women are being constantly and deliberately being violated through sheer force. Silence against such a tyranny is nothing less than performing the act itself. The Afghan women are increasingly becoming aware of their rights and social status. They have realized the important role which they will be playing in the reconstruction of their country therefore they intend to fight for their rights until they gain the respect of the society which they deserve. Support for this cause is absolutely essential and can be provided by the outright condemnation of these violations of the human rights.