Ahead of two major transition processes – the 2014 NATO withdrawal and the forthcoming presidential elections – in the country, there are increasing concerns on the future of women’s rights in Afghanistan. While a recent report by the World Economic Forum on global gender gap indicated a considerable improvement on decreasing the gap between genders in most of countries across the world, Afghanistan is still far from the global efforts for improvement of women’s conditions and rights. Yet in Afghanistan, there are concerns of a possible reverse in women’s rights after withdrawal of foreign troops by end of 2014.
Recently, a UN top official expressed concerns on the uncertain future of the Afghan women, saying that the threats against women in Afghanistan have been on the rise in the last two years and “female politicians and activists increasingly being subjected to threats, intimidation and attacks.” Amidst the uncertainty and as the violence against women are growing, the policy makers in Afghanistan and the international community must act to ensure the conditions of Afghan women would not deteriorate after NATO withdrawal from the country.
The causes of violence against women are mostly driven by the dominant conservative culture and the decades-long conflict. However, the most dominant reason behind the widespread violence against women is the fact that the Afghan society is deeply conservative. The widespread domestic violence and/or violent behaviors against women are closely related to the conservative attitude of the male members of the families to the women, seeking superiority in form of guardianship over them. Inevitably, efforts from the male family members in seeking superiority result to conflicts in the families and consequently violence against women. The major reason behind the attitude of violent domination of male members over the women and girls in the families is in traditions, religion and the low rate of literacy.
The women have been deprived of their basic rights and freedoms as they have been treated as an inferior class in the society as well as the families. For instance, for a typical Afghan girl, particularly in rural areas, it has been less likely to have the permission of her family to go to school, university or workplace, virtually leading to her deprivation from opportunities critical for a better life. In more conservative areas, during decision-making about marriage, a girl used to have no say about her preference or endorsement while the male members of the family have the final authority in making decisions.
The decades of war and violence have played a major role in violation of women’s rights and limitation of their freedoms. In fact, the women have been direct victims of war and instability and the most affected segment of the society during the past decades of wars. They have suffered from being killed in the wars, murders, tortures and displacements. The militant groups still target the women activists as well as those who are going to school or working outside. The insurgents continue to target women activists and school girls to discourage them from their social activities and attending public schools. Despite extensive pro-women campaign during past twelve years, each month there are many cases of violence against them in the society and family levels. Time and again, there are reports of violence against women, such as honor killings, rapes and tortures.
Despite all progresses made during past twelve years, there are still concerns for probable setbacks in women’s rights, as the ominous 2014 deadline is getting closer, and the public anxiety is growing. Many wonder about what would happen after the withdrawal of foreign forces by 2014 and how it would affect the status of women and on the hard-gained achievements of the past decade. Despite the substantial gains in the rights and status of Afghan women, there are still potential dangers threatening the minimum hard-gained achievements and reversal of the achievements regarding the lives and conditions of the women.
However, the fact is that Afghanistan has changed and the status of Afghan women has considerably improved since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The programs aimed at improving the life conditions of women, have worked and helped in shaping the opinions of people towards the women. The policies and strategies of the Afghan government towards promoting the rights of the women have been effective – though inefficient. It has supported the media, human rights organizations, women activists and other groups. The collective efforts of Afghanistan and the international community have helped to encourage other parties in the society to step in the campaign for the cause of women’s rights. Human rights organizations and women activists bear the brunt the campaign against extremists and in the conservative society.
Public awareness campaign for promoting women’s rights is the most major driver of change and the achievements made so far. But it has not been carried out with potent momentum which could all parts of the society. Public awareness gradually changes the conservative mood of the society and makes it ready for embracing the new way of life and accepting a new set of rights for the women. In order to carry out such public awareness, general education is the key. By generalizing education to the far-reach corners of the country, and to all parts of society, Afghans will be able to fight conservatism. In addition to that, the women now have direct and active involvement in the campaign, giving them a voice and the energy to make their voice heard.
As a result of the efforts, the conservative Afghan society is opening up for embracing new status and rights for the women in post-Taliban Afghanistan. In recent years, the situation has much improved as the collective move towards the goal of a violence-free society for women impacts the society. While there were almost a-zero percent of girls in school during the Taliban era, there are now millions of girls going to schools and universities, which virtually would change their life as well as the attitude of the society and that of families. During the Taliban regime, the women of Afghanistan were fully banned from working outside and in public services and were forced to stay indoors. They were forced to be accompanied by a male relative when going out, visiting relatives or shopping. But now, they are memories of the past.
Today, there are women singers in the media, women teachers at schools and universities and women lawmakers in the parliament. This is a clear sign of what is going on in Afghan still-conservative society. The fact that millions of girls are going to universities is indicating that the country is changing, though not at a fast pace, but is moving in the right direction. However, there should be concrete measure both from the Afghan government and the international community to sustain these achievements and ensure that the women’s rights would be protected and preserved after 2014.