News / Asia

Will New Afghan Government Roll Back Women's Rights?

Independent Election Commission (IEC) employee counts the ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, June 14, 2014.
Independent Election Commission (IEC) employee counts the ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, June 14, 2014.
Spozhmai Maiwandi
As Afghan women await the results of the second round of presidential elections which took place over the weekend, they are watching to see that the rights they have won and the advances they have made in the last decade are not compromised.

In the political landscape of Afghanistan today—and in stark contrast to its strongly conservative culture—women vote. They are members of Parliament. They serve in the Cabinet.  They hold positions in provincial councils.

Although the 2006 Afghan Constitution guaranteed women certain rights—including the right to vote, to be educated, and to hold public office—the women of Afghanistan have suffered some setbacks in the last seven years.

The administration of President Hamid Karzai has paved the way for millions of girls to go to school and for women to work and has enshrined equal rights for the citizens.

But there has been criticism that Karzai has been neither staunch nor consistent in supporting women’s rights and that hard-fought gains may be traded away as the government compromises with the Taliban and other Islamic conservative groups.

Rolling back progress

Afghanistan’s parliament and judiciary has repeatedly tried to erode legal protections for Afghan women.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, laws have been proposed to reinstate stoning as punishment for adultery and to abolish the seats set-aside for women on provincial councils.

And there have been ongoing attempts to repeal the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), which was passed in 2010.

Earlier this year, a controversial article in the draft criminal procedure code exempted relatives from testifying on behalf of women who were victims of domestic violence. President Karzai signed the code into law but appended an amendment that made testifying voluntary for members of the victim’s family.

Women’s rights advocates criticized the move, citing the increased difficulty in successfully prosecuting domestic violence cases without being able to compel witnesses to testify.  In March, Karzai publicly endorsed an edict from Afghanistan’s highest Islamic authority, the Ulema Council, that said women were worth less than men.

Amid the backdrop of steady attempts to roll back the gains in women’s rights, the first round of presidential elections on April 5 boasted the largest voter turnout of the last three elections.  More than 7 million of Afghanistan’s 12 million registered voters cast ballots - 2.5 million more voters than in 2009.

The large turnout was attributed partly to the Independent Election Commission (IEC)’s campaign to register new voters. One-third of the nearly 3.6 million new voters registered in the last year and a half are women. And  it is estimated that 35 percent of the country’s 12 million registered voters are women, most of them young women.

Not only did women show up in record numbers to vote, there were also a record number of women candidates on the ballot. The IEC reports nearly 300 women ran for provincial posts in 2014. That means 12 percent of the candidates were women.

Sarobi candidacy

And creating what was perhaps the greatest sensation of the campaign trail was Habiba Sarobi, the former governor of Bamiyan province. She ran as the vice-presidential nominee of Zalmay Rassoul, who placed third in the first round of presidential elections.

This was the first time in the history of the country that a woman ran on a viable national ticket.  Massouda Jalal ran for president against Karzai in 2004, but it was seen mostly as a symbolic move.

Despite the advances, women still face serious challenges.

Throughout the country, concerns about security, health, and illiteracy are foremost in women’s minds. Lacking running water, electricity, and basic health care, the majority of Afghan women are struggling from day to day. Infant mortality is high and violence against women is common.

According to Qudsia Niazi, the director of the office of the Special Attorney, the biggest achievement of Afghan women, other than getting the right of education and work, has been the reporting and reduction of the violence against women.

In an interview with the VOA in May, Niazi said, “Just in the capital city of Kabul, more than 3,500 cases of violence against women have been solved in the past four years, and the perpetrators have been convicted, sentenced with imprisonment and even execution.”

US pledges support

Many Afghan women are worried about the impact that the decrease of international aid, the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2016, and any possible negotiated peace with the Taliban will have on their lives.

Catherine Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, told VOA’s Afghan Service that the U.S. will support women’s rights in Afghanistan after the troops leave.

Russell said the Afghanistan Promote program by the U.S. Agency for International Development is committing more than  “ $200 million over the next five years to support women in the country who are politically and economically engaged, and we see that as a way to continue to support the women who’ve made a tremendous progress there.”

Russell added that the concerns of Afghan women are the same as those of women in the rest of world: economic, social, and political empowerment of women and girls.

The flip side of aid programs is local organization and participation in the political process.

The high turnout of women voters in the first round of presidential elections signals that Afghan women are beginning to recognize the power of becoming politically active. Afghan women firmly believe that the clock on those achievements cannot and should not be turned back.

Candidates vow to protect women's rights

Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the two candidates who vied for the presidency in the second round of elections, vowed to protect women’s rights. In their campaign speeches, Both men pledged to support women’s causes and to give women a greater role in government.

Abdullah considers women’s rights as a make or break issue in the reconciliation talks with the opposition.

Speaking on June 5 to representatives of women’s groups that supported his campaign, he thanked them for their role during the current elections and stressed “that in order for Afghan women to get the position that they deserve, it is important to first get them educated.”

He said he would enforce laws that protect the rights of women and  emphasized the “role of religious leaders in removing the negative concepts and thoughts that exist in the society regarding women.” 

Ghani also emphasized the importance of educating women, saying that “one educated woman in Afghan society educates a whole family.” He has also repeatedly stressed that all Afghans are equal regardless of gender, creed, color, and ethnicity, as clearly stated in the Constitution.

Ghani added that he will “pay more attention to bringing positive changes in the lives of Afghan women” if he is elected as the next president."

During an event in March to mark International Women’s Day, Ghani created quite a stir by appearing onstage with his wife, who addressed the audience of women at the rally.

This has been seen as a direct response to Karzai, who has been persistently criticized by women’s rights advocates for keeping First Lady Zeenat Karzai, a gynecologist by training, out of the public eye during the 13 years of his administration.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: eusebio manuel vestias from: Portugal
June 17, 2014 3:55 PM
liberty the women of human right Afghanistan

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs