Afghanistan women fear reversals of basic human rights as 2014 gets closer

Amina Zia Massoud – WNN Inside Perspectives on Afghanistan

Women voice concern in public meeting  Pakitika Province, Afghanistan
An Afghan girl attends a female engagement team meeting in Balish Kalay Village, Urgun District, Afghanistan, March 27, 2011. Women and children attended the meeting with the FET of Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team to discuss major issues and concerns. The FET gathers vital information from Paktika women, and uses that information to help improve their economic, educational and health issues. Image: DVIDSHUB/Flickr

This important story is an updated version of a previous release by WNN – Women News Network

(WNN) Kabul, AFGHANISTAN, SOUTHERN ASIA: As 2014 approaches there are worrying signs that Afghan women’s rights will diminish once again. 2014 is expected to usher in the departing NATO, U.S. and international troops, along with an expected political change through Afghanistan’s Presidential election.

The future for Afghanistan has never been more uncertain.

Perhaps the most concerning outcome with NATO and U.S. military forces departing the region is the fate of Afghan women. There are already ominous signs that women’s rights in Afghanistan face a bleak future, despite the many gains women have fought for since 2001.

With many political analysts claiming that Afghanistan is entering a doomed era of another civil war and even a Taliban reclaim of power, the future for Afghan women does not look bright at this point.

“A Talibanized regime is the biggest misery to women,” outlined Mr. Ali Shahidy an Afghanistan-born human rights advocate who has just, through the help of scholarship monies and fundraising, been able to start his formal college education in Norwich University in the United States.

Shahidy now calls himself a ‘male feminist’ but that hasn’t always been the case.

I never realized how devastating our culture was for women until my brother-in-law tortured my sister.

Growing up in Afghanistan, I had already watched my father beat my mother—but that was seen as just another part of daily life. Then the cycle of violence continued when I myself became an abuser. I began to beat my sisters and harass girls in the street. I restricted my sisters’ movements, how they looked, and who they spoke to. Afghan customs taught me that the honor of my family was more important than the physical and psychological well being of my own siblings. I was following accepted cultural norms without shame.

Then, one of my younger sisters, Soraya, was forced to abandon school and marry against her will. The couple moved to Iran and my sister became yet another victim of domestic violence in her wretched and abusive marriage. Her husband beat her while she was pregnant and regularly tortured her, locking her in her room and threatening their infant son with a knife. The scars on Soraya’s hands and her drastic weight loss were the only things that spoke of her horror.

Like my mother and many other Afghan women, she quietly and dutifully accepted her fate,” outlined Shahidy last January in Women Under Siege Project, an online project that maps violence against women worldwide sponsored by the New York based Women’s Media Center.

“There is no room for women’s rights in a Talibanized regime,” said Shahidy. “There is no tolerance for women in Taliban sovereignty because a Taliban ideology never recognizes the human values of a woman.”

Shahidy claims that if the events of 2014 bring in conflict then the role of women will reverse to its past status, abolishing the rights fought for in the past decade.

“I think we need to realize the connection between International Troops withdrawal from Afghanistan and Afghan women’s rights. The presence of international troops means “security” or, at least, “better security”. And absence of them means “insecurity”. An insecure environment adversely affects women’s rights and augments their plight. For instance, insecurity affects their education, employment opportunities, women’s entrepreneurship, their presence and participation in political and social spheres.”

The worrying signs are beginning to sprout throughout the country.  On May 18, an effort to have Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, known as the EVAW law, endorsed by the Afghan parliament ended in disarray.

1926 photo image of prominent Afghan women
A photograph from 1926 shows the modern western influence in Afghanistan as 3 prominent wealthy Afghan women pose in front of the camera, a new technology in the region at the time. Image: Ruth Riv

Taliban may not be only ones to blame

The opposition against this law by some MPs was a serious blow to the women’s right movement. Those against the Law characterized it as a violation of Afghan religious and cultural values. This ignored the countries issues on child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence and the prosecution of rape victims. Conversely the Law ignores human rights and values.

As more statistics are revealed, the Taliban are not the only ones to blame for the suppression of women in the country.

Far too many ‘so called’ honor killings, killings done in the name of ‘family honor’, have taken place throughout the Afghan region in the past decade. This lethal violence does not only pertained to members who ‘dishonored’ their family but to others who don’t have any connection to the family, like journalists, lawyers and even a civil servants, who were seen as ‘dishonorable in society’ because of the work they did. Most of these killings have not been blamed on the Taliban per se, but rather on ‘unknown gunmen’.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, at least 600 women and girls are imprisoned in Afghanistan for ‘moral crimes’ over the last 18 months. This is a 50 percent increase for women in prison.

A majority of the women and girls imprisoned in 2012 were actually the victims of crime who fled forced and underage marriages. Others faced extreme domestic violence. Some had even been convicted of adultery, sex outside of marriage, after being raped.

Shahidy claims that such incidents are imminent in the country because of the belief of where a woman’s place is in the society.

“We have witnessed cases where the perpetrators were family members or close relatives of the victim women. Most men still believe that women belong only to a home sphere, and shouldn’t appear in public arenas,” Shahidy continued. “I think such social changes or reforms occur largely through public awareness and women empowerment. And the emergence of such social changes in Afghanistan takes a very long time,” he added.

Yet this change can only be possible through government support. While undeniably the Afghanistan constitution protects many of the rights of women, at times the Afghan government’s rhetoric has done the opposite.

Woman prisoner Badam Bagh prison Kabul, Afghanistan
The Badam Bagh women’s prison in Kabul, Afghanistan continues to this day to hold women who have been victims of crimes, instead of the perpetrator of a crime. This image shows a woman looking out through the prison fence in 2010 with prison laundry hanging above her. Image: UNmultimedia

In the past year President Karzai endorsed a statement by the National Religious Council that described women as secondary. At the same time another government official accused women shelters of immorality and prostitution.

Shahidy claims that such rhetoric is damaging to their cause and reinforces patriarchal beliefs that men are superior to women.

“The women’s shelters were previously run by NGOs, but later, as the accusations grew, were handed over to the government,” outlined Shahidy. “So the accusations are meaningless when shelters are under direct surveillance of the government. Even if the accusations are true, the government must provide alternative services for abused women rather than deteriorating their plight by shutting the shelters.”

Violence against women, coupled with poor healthcare and poverty, has made Afghanistan the world’s most dangerous country for women, says a 2011 poll conducted by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While the country has come a long way in the past decade it still has a long way to go. With the fears of conflict taking over Afghanistan post 2014, the women’s rights movement faces a real risk of halting.

If women are abandoned in a diminishing climate supporting human rights, it would be a betrayal of one of the key promises from the international community. Afghan women have fought hard for every little bit of progress they have made. Their fight for women’s rights and human rights must not only be granted but supported by all Afghan men and women who want to see their nation flourish. An Afghanistan where half of the population is not oppressed, but instead contributes greatly, is the potential.

As Shahidy puts it, the contribution of men is ‘crucial to the cause’.

“There are very limited groups of males who advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan,” continued Sahidy. “I know in many countries, there are male groups of feminists in colleges and civil societies who fight for women’s rights. But we don’t have any such groups or causes in Afghanistan unfortunately.”

“However, I am more optimist about the future since more men are getting involved in the cause,” added Sahidy.


On Thursday February 14, 2013 women and men came together to protest on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan for the safety and human rights of all Afghan women. As 2014 nears in the region gender-based-violence has continued unabated. While many women felt the progress of the last decade for women and human rights inside Afghanistan, they also feel cautious and afraid fearing that dignity and rights for women may slip backwards in the coming years. This 1:01 min February 2013 video is a Stars&Stripes publications production.


For more information on this topic:


Amina Zia Massoud is a freelance journalist based in Kabul and Dubai who writes about social issues in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East. She has received a BBA in Business Administration from the American University in Dubai and a BA in Communication from Murdoch University in Dubai. Amina Zia Massoud is also a local activist and has worked with local NGO’s in Afghanistan promoting gender equality.


©2013 WNN – Women News Network
No part of the text in this article release may be used or reproduced in any way without prior permissions from WNN.