Women’s and girl’s rights in Afghanistan: an overview

'It is the responsibility of men to support women so they carry out their various roles in society.'
Nahir Ahmadzi, Deputy Secretary of the Lower House of Afghanistan's Parliament

On 5 August, the UN released a report entitled ‘Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts. Included in the report was the finding that women casualties, including injuries and deaths, in Afghanistan’s war against the Taliban and other forces have increased by 23% in the first half of 2015. When considering this, a closer look at the rights of women and girls in the country is timely.

Employment

We ran a campaign in 2014 for women workers in Afghanistan who are at risk, with a particular focus on teachers, doctors, members of the police force and political figures. These particular professions are targeted in part because of their contributions to women’s rights.

Teachers inspire girls to continue their education, doctors have been part of the decrease in maternal mortality from 49.4% to 17.9% since the fall of the Taliban, as well as providing medical treatment to survivors of sexual assault, and female police officers assist in the prosecution of perpetrators of domestic violence alongside their male counterparts. In 2013, we shared the story of “Dr D”, a female gynaecologist who has been targeted because she treats survivors of sexual violence.  

Women in such jobs are also targeted because of their role within the public sphere, and their challenging of traditional gender roles. A women’s rights activist from Helmand Province, using the alias Shala, told Amnesty USA that “the society here is very restrictive towards women and conservative elements do not like it when women leave the home and work in an office with men who are not family members.”

Sexual & reproductive rights

Not only should women be able to have access to good quality healthcare once pregnant, contraception should be readily available. This enables women to make choices about what happens to their bodies, as part of the broader right to liberty. The reality is that women in Afghanistan are often not provided with the right treatment during and after pregnancy. The maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan is one of the highest in the world; in 2013, for every 100,000 women who gave birth, 330 died during labour or from later complications. This figure is only the reported figure; the adjusted figure, to account for unrecorded instances, is 460 for 2010.

Additionally, contraception prevalence (the percentage of married women aged between 15 and 49 who use some form of contraception) was at only 21.2% from 2008 to 2012; this is nearly 4 times lower than the figure of 84% for Britain during the same time period. A high percentage shows that women are informed and confident about using contraception – it demonstrates that the right to liberty and to freedom of conscience is being upheld; conversely, this low percentage suggests that these rights are not being adequately protected.

Education

Education is one of the rights outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty detailing human rights specifically for children. The treaty recognises the right of every child to a primary education, free of charge, and to live free from discrimination. The gender disparity in access to education in Afghanistan suggests these rights are not being adequately protected. Additionally, for girls to have access to education, freedom of movement is needed – they must be able to safely travel to school each day. In 2010, UNESCO found that girls’ enrolment in school decreased by 19% for each mile the girl would need to travel to school.

As of 2013, the ratio of girls to boys enrolled in primary school education is 65:100 – a low figure. However, there has been an enormous improvement over time. During Taliban rule (when the education of girls was forbidden) only 4% of primary school-age girls were enrolled in primary school, but in 2010 this number had risen to 79%.

Girls’ enrolment in education serves as both an indicator of progress in women’s rights as well as a means of improving it. Women who are literate and have received an education will be more knowledgeable of their human rights and more confident in defending them; they are more open to engagement with programs to protect women’s human rights, and human rights as a whole.

Campaigning and government

250 people took part in the launch of the “HeForShe” campaign in Kabul on 16 June of this year. The slogan for the programme within Afghanistan is “A Brave Man Stands For Women”.

The fact that Afghanistan had a greater share of women parliamentarians in 2014 than America was a much-touted statistic. The Afghanistan Constitution states that women must be included in the country’s parliament. At present, 28% of parliamentary seats are held by women; this number has remained the same since 2010.

The Mesherano Jirga is one of the two houses of the National Assembly of Afghanistan and is approximately equivalent to the Britain’s House of Lords; here, 10% of the parliamentary seats must be filled by women according to the 2002 Loya Jirga Emergency agreement.

This quota is important and ensures that women cannot be completely excluded from  decision-making on a national scale. More female representation in government creates a positive cycle. It results in the issues women face being addressed more. This in turn leads to improved protections for and attitudes towards women in public roles, resulting in more female representation in government.

Women human rights defenders are often subject to violent attacks and threats. Senator Khairkhwah is all too aware of this; in 2013, the Taliban attacked her in Ghazni province, resulting in the death of one of her daughters, the paralysis of the other and the death of her brother, as well as serious injuries to herself. Khairkhwah estimates she has received over 100 threats since 2010. She returned to work shortly after the attack, saying “I want to motivate other women to continue their work.” Read about Khairkhwah

Inspired? Find out about Amnesty's work on women in Afghanistan

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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