December 22, 2001 is marked as the new beginning and new chapter in the history of Afghanistan as the former president of Afghanistan while handing over the power to Mr Hameed Karzai said: “my view is that the problems and hard days of our people are coming to an end” (CNN, December 22, 2001).
International Community led by United State of America attacked on Afghanistan in October, 2001, to eradicate Al Qaida and Taliban and with the motto to establish a stable government, brings democracy and flourish human rights and help Afghanistan to move towards a better tomorrow.
Collapse of Taliban Regime in October 7, 2001, was a spark of hope for all Afghan people. Especially for women who were very restricted and experienced lots of hardships and discrimination during the Taliban regime, now in Afghanistan women are relatively enjoying their rights as they can go to schools, universities, hold public office, serve in army, become policeperson and can run for election and so on but still there are some hurdles which are facing women but by and large situation is in favor of women it is up to them how much they can use it.
Millions of girls go to school and Universities; at the same times millions of girls cannot go to schools and universities. Conservative customs, poverty, lack of educational facilities and a strong culture of gender discrimination have deprived about over five million school-age children (over three million of them girls) of education, according to aid agencies and the Ministry of Education (MoE). That is roughly one third of Afghanistan’s under 18 populations of about 14.5 million in 2007, according to the UN Children’s Fund (afghan-web).
Most illiterate children are girls. According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), literacy rates for Afghan females aged 15-24 in comparison to their male peers were on average about 10 percent lower (afghan-web).
Women participations in political, social, economical and construction and reconstructions are quite tangible and considerable. Beyond ministry of women affairs, women have other higher position too. It is obviously clear that position and situation of Afghans’ women is not as good as developed and stabled countries, but in comparison to the past; it is much better nowadays.
There is one exclusive ministry for women, one ongoing acting women minister by the name of Suraia Dalil for Public Health, one ongoing minister by the name of Dr.Amina Afzali, Minister of Labor, Martyrs and Disabled, one ongoing female governor by the name of Dr. Habiba Sarabi, one female mayor for Nili City, Daikundi Province and the chairperson of Afghanistan Independent Human Right Commission is a lady by the name of Dr. Seama Samar. And 27 percent of Lower House and 23 percent of Upper House of Parliament are women.
These are all about white face of a coin, but there are challenges women are struggling with in Afghanistan too.
It is said that the population of Afghanistan is about 30 millions, but it is not a clear and verified statistic census. This estimation belongs to UN Organizations which are active in Afghanistan and made this estimation through human aids to the people of Afghanistan.
According to Afghanistan central Statistic Office(CSO), Female populations are about 11720, 6 million and male populations are 12272.9 million; totally 23993.5 millions in year 2009(CSO,2009).
There is another statistic came out from United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on populations of Afghanistan that shows 23.6 million people in Afghanistan, and 48.9% are female (UNIFEM, Factsheet, 2004).
Women’s rights in National constitution
In Afghanistan constitution women and men have equal rights and there is not any discrimination between them.
The citizens of Afghanistan – whether man or woman – have equal rights and duties before the law (Afghanistan National Constitution, Article 22, 2004).
The Afghan Constitution of 2004 contains specific provisions guaranteeing certain women’s rights. Article 22 guarantees women’s equal rights and duties before the law. Article 44 states: “The state shall devise and implement effective programs for balancing and promoting of education for women, improving of education of nomads and elimination of illiteracy in the country.”
The Constitution also guarantees seats for women in Afghanistan’s bicameral National Assembly. Approximately 27 percent of the seats in the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) are reserved for women and the president must appoint additional women to the Meshrano Jirga (House of the Elders). The Constitution also obliges the government “to create a prosperous and progressive society based on social justice,” and to “protect human rights.” The Constitution expressly requires the state to “abide by the U.N. charter, international treaties, international conventions that Afghanistan has signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Afghanistan acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) without any reservations on March 5, 2003.
There is some law’s limitation that women are challenging with in Afghanistan such as Afghanistan Shia Personal Status Law. The new law regulates marriage, divorce, and inheritance for the country’s Shia population. It includes provisions that require a woman to ask permission to leave the house except on urgent business, a duty to “make her up” or “dress up” for her husband when demanded, and a duty not to refuse sex when her husband wants it (HRW, April 14, 2009).
This law was first singed by Hamid Karzai president of Afghanistan and then because of national and international objections and pressures, Ministry of Justice and law was ordered for an amendment. This law is running after revised and reapproved by parliament and then President Hamid Karzai signed it again.
That is because of religious influence and traditional societies, make officials to obey such kind of demand and accept pressures from religious leaders. An MP from Farah Province in bicameral parliament due to conflict with Jihadist Leaders, her membership was suspended from parliament. She said: “The first condition was that criminals shouldn’t be there [at the Loya Jirga and in government]. But who were the big people at the Loya Jirga? All the criminals, they were all there. I expected more changes for women’s rights.”(Malalai Joya, Loya Jirga delegate, August 13, 2004).
Women and the Bonn process
Five years under Taliban restricted Regime, peoples’ final choice was to leave the native country and accept all migration problems. People were not thinking that bright would come after this thick darkness was made by Taliban.
September 11, 2001 is called fortunate and unfortunate. About three thousand American, were killed in this day by a terroristic attack at Twin Tower and Pentagon; seemingly, it was the basic reason for international community interfering to Afghanistan and collapsing Taliban Regime. Elimination of terrorism and defeating Taliban showed spark of hope in Afghanistan as many migrated returned home.
The basic framework for Afghanistan underpinned in Bonn, Germany in December 2001 Agreement, an accord signed by representatives of the militia forces who fought with the U.S.-led coalition against the Taliban, representatives of the former King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, and representatives of various other exiled Afghan groups.
Under the provisions of the agreement, Hamid Karzai was chosen as chairperson of Interim Government, an Emergency Loya Jirga (Grand Council) met in June 2002 to pick a two-year transitional government. At that meeting, Hamid Karzai was chosen as President of Afghanistan Transitional Government again. A Constitutional Loya Jirga was then convened in December 2003 to approve a new constitution and government’s structure.
Women formed approximately 12 percent of the Emergency Loya Jirga delegates. There was one woman candidate among the men for presidency of Transitional Government. Despite Jihadist pressure to withdraw and vote for Hamid Karzai, Massouda Jalal, a physician and U.N. staff member from Kabul stood for the presidency at the Emergency Loya Jirga and went on to win 171 votes, second to Karzai’s 1,295(Emergency Loya Jirga of 2002).
According to National Constitution, seats are reserved in parliament and provincial councils. Women represent 27% of the Bicameral National Assembly: (68 out of 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga and 23 out of 102 seats in the Mesherano Jirga( IEC and Afghanistan Election Law).
The 2009 Presidential and Provincial Council elections were conducted on 20 August 2009.The elections were contested by 41 Presidential candidates (including two women) and 3,180 Provincial Council candidates who included 333 women. Women held 121 out of 420 Provincial Council seats in 2005(IEC, August 20, 2009).
Women account for 25.9% of all civil servants, the number of women who registered for elections increased from 41.5% in 2004 to 44% in 2005, three ongoing women ministers and acting ministers; and the first female governor was appointed in 2005 in the province of Bamyan; and one female mayor appointed in 2008 in the province of Daikondi.
In spite of all the mentioned achievements still there are challenges that women are facing with.
They have to build their capacity, get the guts to fight some traditions in society which are standing as a hurdle at their way. For example There were not enough women to meet the 124 seat quota at the Provincial Council elections, and 3 seats had to be given to men, In 17 of the 36 Ministries there are less than 10% female employees and out of the total 17 Ambassadors of Afghanistan to other countries in 2007, only two were women( UNIFEM, Factsheet).
Also UNIFEM finding shows that 87% of Afghans believed that women need a male relative’s authorization to vote, 35% of women believed they would not have permission to vote and 18% of men admitted they would not allow their wives to vote (UNIFEM, Factsheet, 2004).
Women in Justice Sector
There is currently an Afghan Women Judges Association, created in 2003, and an Afghan Women Lawyers and Professionals Association.
The Family and Juvenile Courts are headed by women, of the 1,547 sitting judges in Afghanistan only 62 or 4.2% are female, of the 546 prosecutors, 35 or 6.4% are female, of the 1,241 attorneys 76 or 6.1% are female and there are no women members in the Supreme Court Council.
Women and security services
There are many women in charge of national security forces. Presences of women in national police are more than, in national army.
Women represent less than 1% of employees in police and military services, there were only 233 policewomen out of the total 62,407 personnel in Afghanistan in February 2007, there are 259 women in the Afghan National Army, which is 0.6% of approximately 43,000 military personnel and there are no women in the auxiliary police force(UNIFEM, Factsheet).
Women in Peace Building and Reconstruction Sector
In the 9,394 Community Development Councils established throughout Afghanistan by May 2007, the numbers of female members were 21,239 (24%), compared to 67,212 (76%) male members.
National Solidarity is a nationwide programme run by government, aimed to developed villages and villagers all around Afghanistan. Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation Development (MRRD) is directly in charged with the programme. Every small village had its own Community Development Shura(Councile); had 4 to 8 members including women. NSP supports local governance and poverty alleviation by: establishing a national network of community development councils that empower communities to make decisions; funding priority subprojects that improve access to infrastructure, markets, and services; strengthening community capacities through participatory processes and training; and promoting accountability and wise use of public and private resources (MRRD).
Only nine women are on the peace council, barely over 10 percent of its members, although President Karzai had promised a much more substantial female representation. High Peace Council is established about a month ago to negotiate with Taliban insurgents; those who believe women are the housewives.
Women in Health Sector
A new Department of Women and Reproductive Health was established within the Ministry of Health in 2003, a Basic Package of Health Services has been developed which includes emergency obstetric care, the number of health care workers has increased to 15,001 in 2007, and 49.3% of them are women.
In the meanwhile the mortality rate is much higher in Afghanistan. According to UNIFEM Survey, One woman dies every 29 minutes in child birth (1,600 to 1,900 deaths per 100,000 live births, the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world), only 14% of births have skilled attendants present, and only 12% of women receive professional ante-natal care, depending on the location, between 30% and 90% of women in rural areas don’t have access to health care, the average woman had 7.4 children in 2004, the average life expectancy for women in Afghanistan is 44 years, out of the 25,000 Afghans who die from tuberculosis each year, 16,000 are women and 48% of women are iron-deficient(MoPH).
Women in Media Activities and Media Portray
Women participation in media Outlets are as much as other sectors in Afghanistan but in comparison to the past, the activities of women in media outlet are much better.
According to United Nations Development Fund for Women findings, only 208 (23.6%) out of the 881 staff members in the Government Press Sector were women, one private daily newspaper in Kabul reported only 20.9% of staff members are women, in one private television station in Kabul, only 202 out of the 1,950 staff members were women and most women work as cleaners and cooks in the media sector (UNIFEM).
It is quite clear that women can easily access to the media to express their situation and criticize the government and explain the discriminations which are facing them in the society.
Women journalist and women are involved in media activities in Afghanistan faced many challenges and problems as some of them had lost their lives. Shaima Rezayee, Tolo private TV narrator, Shakeba Sanga Amaj, Shamshad private TV channel narrator; and Zakia Zaki, Director of Radio Saday e Sulh( Peace Voice Radio) are the victims of women for freedom of speech and women rights.
Media and women
In Afghanistan the Libertarianism or Free Press System is proceeding and the Government recognized it as an official system in Afghanistan.
There have not been established, professional information and film productions in Afghanistan to follow a feminism media theory. There have been one active woman film director, Roya Sadat; tries to portrays women as they are in current situations. For instance, in Tar wa Zakhma Documentary (filament and plectrum) she shows women are sewing rugs and are in charge of household chores, but she tries to encourage them to come in public sphere and discard the tradition that women should not appear in public sphere.
There are many different stereotypes of women in advertising. Throughout history, women are mainly portrayed on television advertisements as housewives or occupants that are subordinate to men in Afghanistan. Women in advertisements, even narrator and presenter of TV, must appear in a particular dressing that makes them looks nice and beautiful (this was my own impression from monitoring Afghan TVs’ programs, October 15, 2010)
TV Programmes show a psychological power relation of women to men in Afghanistan. As many Indian soap-operas such as (kasuti zindagi ki) are screenings in Afghanistan, media portray women as Indian media portray in India. But some serials like Raz Haye en Khana(Secrets of this House) directed inside Afghanistan, have been effected by Iran even Indian movies and serials.
Women Education Status
Education is women prosperity key in Afghanistan. Afghanistan Educational Strategy, show statistics as below:
14 million students including 6.5 million girls will be enrolled in 22,000 schools, taught by 486,000 teachers (50% female), the number of TTCs will remain 42 and the number of TTRCs will reach 364, enrolling about 1624, 78 students per year. As a result, 100% of the teachers of the country will have at least 14th grade education, 320,000 students will be taught by 48,000 professional teachers in 550 technical and vocational schools, there will be 470,000 students acquiring Islamic Education in about 1193 Islamic Education Centers across the country through 14,000 teachers (50 % female).
One million new literates (60% female) will be produced through 40,000 literacy courses and 20,000 teachers every year. The total number of people to achieve literacy by 2020 will reach 8 million, 100% of schools will have useable buildings and conducive environments.
A national Institute of Curriculum Development will be operational. A set of quality textbooks will be provided to students every three years, education system will be more balanced and gender and regional disparity will be brought to an absolute minimum.
Education content and delivery will be tuned to address national development priorities. All Teachers and staff of MoE will be reformed through pay & grade system by 2012 and living conditions of teachers will be further improved through distribution of land to those teachers who do not have their own housing. Integration of technical and vocational education into general and Islamic schools will be conducted (MoE).
In 2005, 58.8% of students enrolling in Teacher Training Institutions in Afghanistan were female. But rate of literacy, especially in terms of women are down in Afghanistan. According to UNIFEM finding, the estimated literacy rate for women stands at 15.8% (compared to 31% for men), only 19% of schools are designated as girls schools, in 29% of educational districts there are no designated girls schools at all, only about 28.4% of teachers in Afghanistan were women in 2005, at the primary level there is one girl student for every two boys, at the secondary level there is one girl for every three to four boys and the number of girls in secondary school decreased by 4.7% per annum during 2004-5( UNIFEM, Factsheet).
Marriage Situation and Traditions
Initially, getting engaged or getting married is more traditional; parents have the authority of selecting and making decision about their son or daughter marriage. There is such kind of customs in term of marriage that in some case the boy does not see the girl until they get married. It is about remote area and the most traditional communities.
It is common that, boy’s parents go to girl’s parents and talk about their offspring marriage. Maybe the boy and the girl are not aware of the issue.
Sometimes boys and girls know each other in school and universities and talk about their marriage before their parents make a decision. Then they share their decision with their parents and then if their parents agree they can get married but in some case their parents oppose their boys or girls decision and this in some cases it results in eloping of boys and girls.
But the worse traditions are child engaging; Girl and boy are engaged when they are very young or even baby.
According to the local tradition, every marriage requires two exchanges. A dowry is brought by the bride to the husband’s house. It generally constitutes household items which the couple will need for their future life together. On the other side, ‘mahar’ which is a compulsory in islam is promised by the groom; It generally consists of livestock, property and money.
Wedding day is the day of great activity for the family. Greeting with the friends and relatives welcoming them and running around serving them and making sure that every arrangement is in its place for the comfort of guests, shortly it’s a hectic day and whole environment presents a festive look, Special dishes are prepared which include kababs grilled on skewers, Nan which is Afghan bread in flat and oval shaped, stewed vegetables and rice cooked with meat.
In the evening, women sit inside the courtyard. The men sit in ‘hujra’, which is a large room with Afghan carpets and cushions. Hujra is place where men sit. In Afghanistan and other traditional Islamic cultures, it is customary to have men and women separated at social events.
The Afghan laws govern the marriages. A Muslim man can marry a non Muslim woman but a non Muslim woman cannot marry a Muslim man.
When a Muslim man wants to marry a foreign woman who is non-Muslim and the woman is not “kitabi” that is of the book, she must first convert to Islam. In either case, the court will only register the marriage religiously, with the “nekah ceremony”. When both the parties are Muslim, the Family Court will register the marriage and perform the Muslim “nekah”ceremony. The “nekah”is comprised of the “ejab wa qabul” which is an acceptance and agreement and the “khotba”.
In majority community, boy parents are responsible of expenditures. They have to pay a big amount of money to the girl parents in the name of Gala; even the price of dowry relate to the boy family. Consequently, the following statistic show marriage situation in Afghanistan is better.
Women head 2% of Afghan households, 70% to 80% of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan, 57% of girls are married before the legal marriage age of 16, the number of reported divorces increased from 14 in 2005 to 158 in 2006 and there are 1 million widows in Afghanistan with an average age of 35years.
Sexual and Gender based Violence
Out of 1,327 incidents of Violence Against Women (VAW) in Afghanistan, 30.7% were related to physical, violence; 30.1% to psychological violence; 25.2% to sexual violence; and 14% a combination of the three, 82% of incidents of VAW are committed by family members, 9% by the community and 1.7% by state authorities.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission registered 1,651 cases of SGBV in 2006: About 558 cases of severe beatings, 213 cases of forced marriage, 106 cases of self-burning, 50 cases of murder, 41 cases of girls exchange, 34 cases of rape, 74 cases of women’s property taken away by husband’s relatives, 198 cases of a lack of support from the husband,19 cases of prevention of women in social activities, 12 cases of girls trafficking(AIHRC, 2006).
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs registered 2,133 cases of SGBV in 2006:
At least 769 cases of forced marriage, 1,011 cases of beatings, 110 cases of deaths by eating opium, 87 cases of murder, 106 cases of self-burning, 33 cases of rape, 20 cases of women’s property taken away by husband’s relatives, 100 cases of lack of support from husband, 69 cases of improper behavior, 24 cases of abduction, 10 cases of girls’ exchange, 5 cases of girls trafficking, 3 cases of theft accusation on women and 2 cases of property withheld from natal home (MoWA, 2006).
Women Labor Force Statistics
According to UNIFEM finding almost 30% of agricultural workers are women, women receive 3 times less wages than men, there are some 50,000 war widows in Kabul, supporting an average of 6 dependents, only 38.2% of women in Afghanistan are economically active and in 2004, the per capita Gross Domestic Product was US$402 for women, compared to US$1,182 for men (UNIFEM).
Based on the statistic and information and also based on my own seeing the situation in Afghanistan is going in favor of women and a lot of progress is made in this regard as we can see millions of girls are going to schools and universities and women are serving in different public sectors.
Three women minister and acting ministers, one female governor and one female mayor and the lady chairman of Afghanistan Independent Human Right Commission are working in cabinet of Afghanistan.
Women are involved in security, politics, health, social, economic and so on; affairs. But there still women have much works to do. It is good attractive to mention or quote Virginia Woolf’s Women Profession Nobel conclusion here and put an end dot to this text. Angel of the House or tradition had been killed but there is still works to do. Women in Afghanistan must work hard to get their right and human dignity. The first and significant step priority for women is capacity buildings; to get the most advantage from existence situation in all, especially in urban.