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Women-in-AfghanistanFirst Annual Meeting to Bring Women of Afghanistan Together - 2011
Photo credit: Young Women for Change

October 2010.

From - Oxfam briefing paper: Safeguarding Women's Rights in Afghanistan

Pre Taliban

The first girls secondary school opened in Kabul in 1941

Women in Afghanistan actually had the right to vote 7 years before women in Switzerland.  1964 vs 1971

Collapse of the pro soviet regime was 1989 – this was followed by a civil war that raged until 1994 when the Taliban gained control. 

Despite the years of civil war, in 1994 women in Kabul =

  • 70% of teachers
  • 50% of civil servant
  • 40% of doctors


When the Taliban came to power they systematically institutionalised the discrimination of women.

  • Women couldn’t work outside the home
  • Women couldn’t be educated
  • Women were forced to wear the burka outside of the house
  • Women had to have a close male relative as an escort (mahram) everywhere they went


The Taliban fell in 2001, but after just 7 years under their rule:

  • Only 5% of women could read and write
  • 54% of girls under 18 were married
  • Afghanistan had the 2nd highest rate of women dying whilst giving birth in the world


Since international intervention there have been some positive steps, some of the positive legal frame works are listed at the end of the fact sheet.

So where are we now, 10 years on?

  • Afghanistan has 69 female MP’s, which is 28%.  The UK currently only has 22% women.  The global average is 18.4%.
  • 2.5 million girls have enrolled in school
  • 30% of teachers are women
  • 47% women of working age are now in the workforce
  • About 30,000 women have a formal voice at community level in community development councils.



    • 1 out of 11 women die in pregnancy or in child birth
    • Over 80% of Afghan women are illiterate and only 6% aged older than 25 have had an education.
    • By the age of 18 only 18% of girls are still in school, compared with 42% for boys, and around half a million girls that had been enrolled in school have partially or wholly dropped out.
    • There is now only 1 female minister – compared with 3 in 2004

The number of women in the civil service dropped from 31% in 2006 to just 21.4% in 2009

  • Though women are working they earn 25c less to the $1 and only 20% report maintaining control of their income.
  • More than 87% of Afghan women have experienced Gender Based Violence or forced marriage.


Are women being included in peace?

  • Only 9 women out of 70 in the High Peace Council
  • In the June 2010 Peace Jirga initially women were only allocated 10% seats, but after much campaigning and lobbying women were given 20%
  • BUT out of 28 committees only ONE is chaired by a women


Since international intervention there have been some positive steps in terms of legal frame works:

  • The first Bonn agreement in 2001 established a Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Afghan Human Rights Commission.
  • Jan 2002 Karzai signed the “Declaration of Essential Rights of Afghan Women”  - this affirmed equality between men and women.  It also outlined that it was a women’s choice whether to wear Hijab.
  • In 2003 Afghanistan signed up to CEDAW, which…
  • The 2004 Afghan Constitution guaranteed a number of rights for women, such as:
    Article 22 - affirming equality and banning discrimination. 
  • Article 83 - 25% women seats in Parliament, provincial councils and district assemblies.
  • Article 43 – the right to education for ALL Afghans.


However some activists said that there were already warning signs at this stage, the first draft of the constitution was very weak  and did not emphasize women’s equal rights in the same way and it was only through advocacy and campaigning that these gains were made.

In December the international community will meet at Bonn in Germany for a Foreign Ministers conference where governments will make statements about their expected levels of both aid and military involvement for the next 10 years.  This is a key time to make sure that women’s rights are not neglected in the exit strategy.


Oxfam briefing paper: Safeguarding Women's Rights in Afghanistan