What is really like to be a woman in Afghanistan?

by Marina Riga, Team Coordinator

According to a survey initiated by Thomson Reuters Foundation, Afghanistan is the worst country in the world for a woman to live in. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Somalia and India are the following places on the list and in this article, we are going to examine how it really is to be a woman in Afghanistan and a big change that took place just a few days ago.

Up until the 1970s, there was a remarkable progress concerning women’s rights. Horia Mosadiq, an Amnesty Researcher from Afghanistan, reports that “as a girl, I remember my mother wearing miniskirts and taking us to the cinema. My aunt went to university in Kabul”. It is worth saying that women got the right to vote in 1919, only one year after the UK. However, after the Soviet invasion in 1979, the subsequent conflicts and the 5-year Taliban rule, all the progress made, was totally ruined. The Taliban are a political and military movement that held power over the 90% of the country of Afghanistan from 1991 to 2001 and enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. Their actions led to the brutal treatment of many Afghans, but especially women. Women and girls were discriminated against in many ways, for the ‘crime’ of being born a girl. Almost all of them were banned from going to school or studying, banned from working, banned from leaving the house without a male chaperone or relative, absorbing their independence. They were forced to wear a burka all the time, allowing only their eyes to be shown, they were banned from accessing healthcare, and of course, banned from being involved in politics or speaking publicly. Due to the fact that most teachers were women, during that time, the educational strain for the boys who still had access to school, was huge. In general, only some women in the medical field were allowed to continue working because the Taliban required that women were allowed to be treated only by female medicals. 

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, a new era of reconstruction started to begin in Afghanistan regarding women’s rights. A lot of human rights and women’s rights activists, as well as many international organizations like Medica Mondiale, have taken actions in order to help women that get raped, abused by their own families and husbands just because they were born women, to have a better life. Nevertheless, it is unlikely for Afghanistan to treat women differently all of a sudden. Unfortunately, hundreds of women daily try to commit suicide to avoid being raped from their husband. A heartbreaking confession from Khadija – she did not want her last name to be known- to TIME will make you realize the severity of the issue. She is a 22-year-old woman, who set herself on fire in order not to see her husband ever again, even though she has a baby son. Eventually, she did not die but ended up in the hospital with third degree burns on her face and body. The female doctor that examined her said that most women do not want to go to the authorities because they are afraid of the consequences and they might open up to their doctor about their serious problem. 

What all of us consider fundamental rights, women and girls in Afghanistan cannot even imagine the freedom that we have in Europe, in America and places where democracy is not violated by governments. For example, according to the UN, 59% percent of all marriages are forced. That is quite a high and shocking number considering that Afghanistan has over 30 million habitants. Also, 51% of the women between 15 and 49 has experienced sexual violence at least once in their life. What is more, Afghanistan is the country with the highest maternal mortality in the world – an estimated 1.291 cases per 100,000 live births On average, there are 5.3 pregnancies per woman. 20% of women give birth before they turn 18. Only 59% of births are supervised by midwives or doctors. The causes of this maternal mortality include young age, vitamin deficiency and poor medical care during pregnancy. The infant mortality rate is also one of the highest in the world – 62 out of 1000 children die before their fifth birthday. And a last but not least sad fact is that only about 30% of women are literate, compared to a 55% of men. 

It is important to mention an accomplishment that took place in Afghanistan this month in the 21st century. The mother’s name will now be printed on their children’s national identity cards. It is widely known that women are not addressed by their names in public. Using a woman’s name in public is traditionally frowned upon and can be considered as an insult. It is not even written on their wedding invitations or their tombstones. They are referred to as the daughter, the wife, the mother of their male relative. Three years ago, though, in 2017, a campaign on social media was initiated with the hashtag #WhereIsMyName. Many activists began to show their name and their mother’s name, while many celebrities supported the initiative through their accounts in order to spread it around the world. President Ashraf Ghani eventually signed into a law an amendment long sought by women’s rights campaigners making the founder of the campaign, Laleh Osmany, proud of the hard work of all the supporters. To conclude, this might be a small step for the woman’s rights towards equality but taking into consideration the circumstances, it is a big change and a good starting point to establish the fundamental rights. 

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