Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Afghanistan’s Women and Desire for Political Power (part 1)


Afghanistan’s Women and Desire for Political Power (part 1)

With Dawood Khan’s coup in 1973, the situation of Afghan women returned as it was before. The Communist, Mujahideen, and Taliban periods worsened the situation of women in Afghanistan. Afghan women experienced the worst situation during the Taliban era. Although they could come out of the house but could not go freely and had to cover their entire body. With the fall of Taliban’s regime in 2001, a good opportunity was provided for women to get involved in various political, economic and social spheres. The new constitutional law amended in 2004 accepted equal rights for women and men in various fields. Many women became candidates for the National Assembly, and some of them won the election and entered the legislative power. The new period can be said to be the best course for Afghan women; despite the fact that violence against them has increased, but they have been able to grow up and gain power in various fields.
The First Steps toward Women’s Liberation
Since the formation of Afghanistan until the time of King Amanullah Khan, women have not participated in any field. Women not only have not participated but have also been absent from the public eye. The position of women has been among the four walls. For the first time, at the time of King Amanullah Khan, the status of women in Afghanistan changed slightly. Queen SorayaTarzi, King Amanullah Khan’s wife, appeared publicly on the Independence Day Celebration - 1919, and this move changed the situation of Afghan women, thereafter, to some extent. After that, Afghan women could have been somewhat visible in public. But still, Afghan women were not involved in any political and administrative department at that time.
The first Afghan women’s organization – Organization for Women’s Protection (Anjuman-E-Himayat-E-Niswan) was formed in 1920 – during King Amanullah Khan era by his sister, Kobra for the purpose of women’s advancement and salvation. This organization encouraged women to voice their complaints, as well as advocated for women unity and fought against injustices and oppressionof Afghan women. Moreover, Organization for Women’s Protection fought for women’s rights and freedoms – the right to education, the right to work and rest, the right to individual freedom, individual immunity, freedom of speech, gatherings, political and civic activities, and trips abroad.
With the overthrowing of Amanullah Khan’s rule and falling political power in the hand of Habibullah Kalakani, women’s situation returned to its former status. The space that was created at the time of Amanullah for the presence of women in public, was destroyed, and women were again kept between home walls. This situation did not change until the decade of democracy – 1964-1973. Though the constitutional law formed at the time of King Amanullah Khan accepted part of the rights of the people and various social groups – particularly for women to claim their fundamental rights, Nader Khan’s autocracy had taken away those opportunities from women specifically the opportunities to appear in public.
The Afghan Women’s Alliance, another organization with the aim of organizing, educating and enlightening Afghan women was established at the time of Mohammad Zahir Shah (1933-1973). It had twenty members. The Afghan Women’s Alliance Organization with the suggestion and follow up of Shah Amanullah’s sister, Bibi Zeinab established the High Institute of Women in Kabul. Mohammad Zahir Shah’s court allocated a piece of land to this institute, in which kindergartens, schools, cinemas,and workplaces were built. The activities of the High Institute of Women were limited to technical and vocational training for adult women. The name of the institute was changed to “MirmanoTolona” in 1342, under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Afghanistan. And, its activities focused on further developing the women’s movement and their participation in important processesin order to strengthen the position of women in Afghan society.
The Rise of Afghan Women Politics
In 1344 (November 1965), the Afghan Democratic Women’s Organization was founded by Dr. Anahita Ratebzad, Soraya Perlika, Kobra Ali, HamidaSherzai, MomenaBasir, and JamilaKeshmand in Kabul. The activities of this group included the demonstration of women’s rights. For the first time in Afghanistan, women participated in the demonstrations of 3rdAqrab organized by the leftist groups. In 1964, some conservative members of the Wolesi Jirga wanted to approve a law prohibiting the education of Afghan girls abroad, but, with the arrangement of women’s organizations, hundreds of girls protested against this proposal and considered it anti the constitutional law and equality of Afghanistan rights of men and women. As a result, the Wolesi Jirga has abandoned this proposal. In 1970, the members of the extremist wing of the Muslim youth fired at women and girls wearing a short dress and sprayed on some of them with acid. The organization organized more than 5,000 women and girls in the city of Kabul in a massive demonstration and called for inspections and punishment of the perpetrators by the government. The government also arrested and imprisoned a number of perpetrators.
Provincial women’s councils, which are very old women’s organizations in Afghanistan and the region, were established during the era of Democratic Republic of Afghanistan’s governments. The councils had 165,000 members, 31 Provincial Councils, 25 City Councils, 38 District Councils, and 3100 Primary Organizations. Dr. Anahita Ratebzad, who, in addition to the membership of the Afghan Women’s Democratic Organization, was a representative of the Kabul people in parliament 12, played an important role in establishing provincial councils.
Taliban’s Regime; the Darkest Era for Afghan Women
Afghanistan experienced a very difficult period in the late 20th century. In the year 1996, the Taliban groups came to power in Afghanistan and circumscribed women’s responsibilities to doing households. The Taliban’s regime banned women and girls from participation in social, economic, political, and even educational spheres. They merged High Institute of Women and MirmanoTolona and employed male employees instead of women. It is said that the experience of the Mujahideen and Taliban era in comparison with the experience of the communist regimes for women is a far worse experience.
The policy of the Taliban in relation to women did not show a significant difference in comparison with the policies of the previous Islamic state. One can argue that the affairs of women in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s era were entirely swept under the carpet both inside Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan. There was little attention paid to the situation of Afghan women by public opinion in the world. Only when the connection between al-Qaeda and the Taliban was revealed, the concern for the burqa women to prepare public opinion in dealing with the Taliban became a widespread issue. It seems that “burqa” has become a policy that has been closely linked to the competition of global powers in the country. However, the dark Taliban regime ended in 2001 by the United Nation Forces led by the US.

Hamid Bamik is a Graduate Student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis University of Missouri-Columbia, USA. He can be reached at hbqwf@mail.missouri.edu.

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