Despite the fact that the Taliban (a fundamentalist Islamic militia) government was overthrown by NATO forces in 2001, during “Operation Enduring Freedom”, the women of Afghanistan are not substantially better off today than they were under previous Muslim rule.
The American-backed government of Hamid Karzai has been unable to effectively enforce the equal rights legislation which was enshrined in the country’s new Constitution in 2004.
The Taliban have had the time and opportunity to regroup and reorganize and are presently a significant force within both Afghan cities and rural areas. NATO troops and government forces have been unable to restrict their activities in a satisfactory manner.
As a result, Afghan girls and women continue to live under threat for either attending or teaching in a school. Numerous educational facilities for girls have been burned down. Female children have been poisoned for daring to try to get a basic education. The majority of women are illiterate, and have an expected life span of only forty-four years, the lowest in the world.
In November, 2008, acid was thrown on fifteen girls in Kandahar on their way to school by two men on motorcycles. Three of the girls suffered severe burns and one might lose her sight. Many other students and teachers have stayed home since hearing of the attack.
In other villages, leaflets have been distributed to homes during the night warning families against sending their daughters to school. According to the Education Ministry, nearly 600 schools have been closed because of security threats.
In regions of conflict, women are afraid to leave their homes. They no longer go to work or participate in the public life of their towns and villages. Those working in medical fields, as aid workers, as election officials or candidates have been targeted and some have been killed.
Females still face widespread discrimination from every part of society. At home, they are often victims of domestic violence. In 2007, 165 women committed suicide to escape abusive situations.
On the street, girls and women may be kidnapped and raped. They can be sold, or traded in settlement for debts. Arranged marriages are common, involving ever younger girls; 70 to 80 percent of weddings are forced marriages in Afghanistan. The situation is compounded by general poverty, limited access to health care and scarcity of food and employment.
Widows are especially vulnerable, and there are many because of Afghanistan’s lengthy history of conflicts. Without a man to provide for them, these unfortunate women are often forced into begging or prostitution to survive.
The police and the courts pay little attention to women’s complaints. Female victims have little recourse to justice through the Afghan judicial system.
Amnesty International warns that the Afghan government and police force, even when augmented by NATO forces, are unable to ensure access to justice for the women whose rights have been abused.
Besides the handicap of having insufficient manpower, government forces are hindered a lack of motivation. The traditional Muslim view is that women are inferior beings who should rightfully be subject to male domination. Entrenched attitudes may take a long time to change.
However, help for Afghan women may be forthcoming. President Obama has promised to reposition the military forces leaving Iraq to Afghanistan. President Karzai will soon have all the manpower necessary to enforce the equal rights section of the Afghan Constitution.
Will physical power alone be enough to substantially alter the brutal and chauvinistic attitude of the majority of the Afghan male population? As the world watches the events soon to unfold in Afghanistan, the answer to this question will become evident. To the women, any improvement at all should be most welcome.