Progressive Achievements of Afghan women and its Catastrophic Reversals by the Taliban
Afghan women and girls made substantial progress toward equality after the Taliban’s fall from power in 2001. During the 20 year period under the republic, Afghan women became active in all areas of public life.
They became active in businesses, such as, home production of handicrafts, food, and other goods,executives at construction, export, and import companies.
Women held jobs as teachers, professors, administrators, and in healthcare as doctors, nurses, and midwives.
Women made a significant part of the civil service and the media too. Women were journalists and worked with the media in all positions.
They served as army officers and police and as prosecutors and judges.
They were active in sports, music, and the arts as freedom of expression, media, and personal movement improved.
Most importantly, women were active participants in all aspects of the democratic process and despite risks to their lives, participated in promoting democracy in their country. They fought for and won constitutional equality and held positions as civil servants, ministers and deputy ministers, governors, and Members of Parliament. They voted in large numbers.
Afghan women were progressing in achieving their human rights starting in the early 1900s. The timeline below only focuses on the period between 2001 and 2021.
Steady progress for Afghan women and girls between 2001- 2021
The Bonn Agreement, forged in Germany with the support of Afghan leaders and the international community, created the Afghanistan Interim Administration, including the first-ever Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The agreement also established the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and guaranteed the participation of women in all aspects of the political process, including in the Loya Jirgas (decision-making groups of elders) and the commission to draft a new constitution.
Afghanistan’s Parliament ratified CEDAW, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, without reservations or modifications.
Women’s rights activists won provisions in the new constitution guaranteeing equal rights for women. Afghan women comprised 25% of the House (the US has 27%). In the upper House, 12% of the members were women and it was required that half of the presidential appointments be women. In the provincial council, it was required that two women be elected from each province.
The World Bank documented substantial progress for Afghan women and girls in its Country Gender Assessment.
Under pressure from human rights defenders and women’s rights activists, a presidential decree criminalized 22 kinds of domestic violence with the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, including rape, battery, forced marriage, preventing women from acquiring property, and prohibiting a woman or girl from going to school or work. With support from international donors, the Afghan government established specialized police called “Family Response Units” and set up prosecution offices and special courts with female judges to carry out the EVAW law.
A World Bank World Development Report (WDR), Gender Equality and Development, highlighted dramatic progress for Afghan women in all regions toward gender equality.
The National Council of Ulema, Afghanistan’s Islamic clerical council, issued a three-page declaration outlining the rights women enjoy under Islam and explaining their associated responsibilities. Among the rights were the right to property, ownership and commerce; to inheritance, according to Sharia; the right to mahr (dowry) as a woman’s exclusive property; and the right to choose a spouse.
An Asia Foundation survey, Afghanistan in 2012: Survey of the Afghan People, reported that 87 percent agreed that women and men should have equal educational opportunities.
The Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industries reported that 1,150 women entrepreneurs had invested $77 million in different businesses in Afghanistan, creating 77,000 jobs.
By 2020, Afghanistan had made significant progress in the following areas:
- More than three million girls attended school, about 39 percent of the total. In universities, girls were one in every four students. Girls were also able to seek higher education degrees outside Afghanistan.
- The literacy rate had doubled since 2001 for men, to 55 percent, and tripled for women, to 30 percent.
- The World Bank reported that the country had 2,309 health centers, 531 public, and private hospitals, and more than 12,000 pharmacies. Women were 19 percent of the 8,744 doctors and 40 percent of the 19,743 nurses. More than 4,000 midwives had been newly trained.
- Infant mortality declined by 42 percent, from 95 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to 53.2 in 2020.
- Maternal mortality rates had dropped 36 percent, from 1,000 to 638 deaths per 100,000 live births.
- Women’s life expectancy rose from 45 years in 2001 to 65 years by 2020.
- Women were 35 percent of public school teachers, 27 percent of government employees, 12 percent of judges, 10 percent of attorneys, and 20 percent of provincial council members. Another 3,300 women were employed in the security sector.
Today, these achievements have mostly been reversed by new Taliban edicts nearly every week.