Despite widespread security risks, the number of women working in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar Province has increased markedly during the past year.
More than 1,150 women are employed by the provincial government, most of them as teachers. A Kandahar governor spokesman, Jawaid Faisal, told VOA's Afghan service this is up from about 900 female teachers in 2013.
He said demand for jobs is on the rise among both educated and uneducated women.
“There are 600 illiterate women who have asked us to provide them with job opportunities. The provincial women’s affairs, and labor and social affairs departments are trying to find jobs for them," said Faisal.
Kandahar is the former power hub of the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who disappeared in December 2001 after U.S.-led coalition forces swept the Taliban from power.
Under the Taliban, women were banned from work outside the home and schooling was denied to girls.
But provincial education official Mohammad Ewaz Nazari said there are hundreds of women teaching thousands of girls.
“We have some 47,000 female students in the province and they are served by about 800 female teachers. Their numbers are rising," said Nazari.
From 1994 to 2002, when the Taliban reigned over Kandahar, no girls graduated from school. This year, 500 girls will complete high school.
In addition to government positions such as teachers, women are also working in the private sector.
Maryam Durani runs a local radio station and is also a leading women’s rights activist. She won the International Women of Courage Award in 2012, an award given annually by the U.S. secretary of state.
“I think more is needed for women in Kandahar. We not only need more opportunities, but we have to consolidate the achievements made," said Durani.
As the U.S. is winding down the war in Afghanistan some Afghans are concerned the Taliban could regain power and reverse the progress of women’s rights.
The Taliban has shown it is willing to target women.
In September 2006, Taliban gunmen shot dead Safia Amajan, director of women’s rights department of Kandahar. Two years later, Taliban assassins killed Malalai Kakar, a senior female police officer in Kandahar. And in April 2009, Sitara Achekzai, a female member of Kandahar’s provincial council, was killed in a Taliban attack.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Afghan service.