Women in Afghanistan

The rights of Afghan women have been part of international political discourse since international troops entered Afghanistan in 2001, and they are often invoked as a key reason for intervention. Currently, the status of women’s rights is precarious, with the recent drawdown of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops in December 2014, and the official passing over of security control to the Government of Afghanistan. GAPS’ No Women, No Peace. Campaign has focussed on Afghan women’s rights since 2010 to ensure that it remains on the political agenda and receives the required national and international support.

Progress on Women’s Rights

Significant gains have been made by Afghan women in the last 14 years since 2001. This progress is thanks to the tireless bravery of Afghan women and girls who have fought for their rights to education, political participation, and public office, frequently in the face of death threats and fatal attacks. The high turnout of women in the 2014 parliamentary elections despite threats of violence is one such example of this.
Progress towards fulfilling women’s rights in Afghanistan is a key indicator of the wider progress of an inclusive, democratic, and peaceful society.

There have been some advances in women’s rights and participation in education, employment, public life and other spheres; 27% of the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) are women and women are constitutionally required to comprise at least 16% of the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House). The President, who appoints one-third of the membership, is required to make 50% of his or her selection women.

There has also been progress for Afghan women in national legislation. For example in 2003 the Government of Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and in 2009 the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law was passed by presidential decree. The Elimination of Violence Against Women Law includes penalties for abuses such as rape, child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence, the sale of women and girls and the giving of girls to resolve disputes between families.

Millions more girls are in school than there were in 2001, where years of Taliban rule had banned women and girls from getting an education, being outside without a male chaperone, or having a job (UNICEF 2013). There are now an estimated 3.18 million girls in education, up from almost none in 2001, but there remain an estimated 2.4 million girls (and 1.6 million boys) out of education (BBC 2012).

Women’s rights in the balance

However, in the last few years, progress made on women’s rights remains in the balance. Despite the modest increases in women’s rights taking place, women human rights defenders and public officials are murdered or attacked on their way to work as politicians and police officers. The number of seats set aside for women in Afghanistan’s provincial councils was reduced in 2013 from 30%, to 25% and finally to 20% (Human Rights Watch 2014).

In November 2013, a draft law by Afghan officials aimed at reinstating public execution by stoning was stopped after being leaked to the media (Human Rights Watch 2014). At high-level political negotiations Afghan women are marginalised: only 9 out of 80 High Peace Council Members are women, and women have been absent and ignored at various critical points of the peace process. This is also reflected in Community Development Councils under the National Solidarity Programme where women and their skills and experiences are also marginalised.

Though improved, the rates of girls finishing school are still low. School dropout in secondary schools is high and the country’s adult literacy rate is 39%, one of the lowest in the world (BBC 2014). An estimated 52% of women are married by the age of 20 (BBC 2014).

Although encouragingly, the Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani talked about the participation of women in the peace and reconstruction process in his September 2014 inaugural speech, there remain many who do not see women as playing an important part of rebuilding a peaceful Afghanistan. The Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) held a protest in February 2015 to demand that more women be elected into the cabinet to reflect the high numbers of women who voted in the election – see their press release here.

The GAPS No Women, No Peace. Campaign

GAPS works closely with women’s rights organisations, chiefly the Afghan Women’s Network, on promoting women’s rights and gender equality in Afghanistan. GAPS has been part of the global movement to advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan since 2010, working with global partners, GAPS members, UK parliamentarians and officials.

With these key stakeholders, GAPS has advocated for gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights with the Government of Afghanistan and international community. Together GAPS and AWN mobilised ahead of the London Conference on Afghanistan (a UK and Government of Afghanistan donor conference hosted by the UK) and the UK-hosted NATO Summit in 2014. This built on GAPS’ continuous work including supporting the Green Scarf Campaign, Bonn and Tokyo Summits where we lobbied for strong UK support to Afghan women.

For further information on GAPS’ work see our NATO Summit stunt blog, briefings and case study.

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