WOMEN in afghanistan
For 40 years, Afghanistan has been the scene of conflicts that have shaped its history: a major issue of the Cold War between 1979 and 1988, which saw the Mujahideen confront the Red Army, the 1990s saw the awakening of internal conflicts and the arrival of Mullah Omar and the Taliban in power in 1996.
Under the conservative Taliban regime, women’s rights were considerably reduced and gender-specific violence found political and legal resonance and justification. The assassination of Commander Massoud on 9 September 2001 and the unprecedented terrorist attacks in the United States two days later precipitated the military response of NATO and Washington: the Taliban regime collapsed at the end of 2001 and a UN-led meeting in Berlin in December appointed Hamid Karzai to head a transitional government.
Since 2002, the situation and living conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan have improved, they now have better access to clean and safe water, essential for pregnant women and women with young children. There has been a significant increase in school enrollment: 9 million students were enrolled in 2016, (39% were girls), compared to 1 million in 2002. (UNICEF, 2016).
However, 2018 marks a sharp decline as a direct consequence of the country’s social, political and economic degradation: 3.7 million children are still out of school, 75% of whom are girls; 81% of girls under 15 are considered illiterate (UNICEF, 2017) and 21% of those enrolled in secondary education are girls (UNESCO, 2017).
Moreover, while the proportion of female teachers in schools is increasing, it is still too marginal and has an impact on girls’ attendance in class, as families very rarely accept that they attend classes taught by men.
Enabling women and girls to have access to quality education that respects their dignity seems essential to us: educated girls and women are more likely to marry later and have fewer children, who in turn are more likely to survive, be better nourished and educated. Educated women are also better paid and more able to participate in social, economic and political decision-making.
Overall, the living conditions of Afghan women remain clearly very precarious, with Afghanistan still considered the most dangerous country in the world (Atlas & Boots, 2019) and one of the worst countries in the world for women. Indeed, although the Afghan government adopted in 2009, for the first time in its history, a law protecting women against all forms of discrimination, sexual and domestic violence, the exchange of women and girls as a solution to internal conflicts, kidnappings, forced or early marriages or threats and attacks in public are all daily realities faced by women and girls in Afghanistan.
The following figures are not intended to be exhaustive but reflect the current worrying situation of the living conditions of children, girls and women in Afghanistan:
Maternal and child healthcare
1 out of 50 women dies during pregnancy (Mortality Survey, 2010)
Births attended by skilled medical personnel (Save the Children, 2011)
Pregnant women who receive prenatal care (WHO, 2013)
1 out of 18 children die before the age of 1 (UNICEF, 2017)
Child death before the age of 5 (UNESCO, 2015)
Children under 5 suffering from acute malnutrition (UNICEF, 2017)
Adolescent girls who are anaemic (UNICEF, 2017)
Water, hygiene and sanitation
National drinking supplies contaminated with faeces
Women not washing their hands regularly, a simple but very effective gesture to prevent diarrhoea, the second leading cause of deaths among children under five in Afghanistan (WHO, 2013)
Social and physical violence
Afghan female labour force (ILO, 2014)
Forcibly married women, 35% of whom are under 18 years old and 9% under 15 years old (UNICEF, 2017)
Reported women having experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage in their lifetime. Women are all the more vulnerable because there are very few places where they can express themselves freely and safely.