There is still hope for Afghan women
When typing ‘Afghan women’ in Google Images search, the first set of images are of women, most often in Burqas, depicted as victims of domestic violence, war, and poverty. Is this portrayal of Afghan women all that the world knows? Why is the Taliban era the only time period that the role of Afghan women is identified with?
It may be surprising to know that women were part of the committee that drafted the 1964 Afghanistan Constitution during King Mohammad Zahir Shah. The Constitution declared equality and natural rights for all citizens, explicitly including women. Afghan women in 1970s through 1990s could have jobs as teachers, lawyers, judges, professors, doctors, and writers. Co-education was common in universities. In the 1970s, there were at least three women legislators in the Parliament. Afghan women played an important role in society even before the 1990s especially in 1880 when a woman named Malalai Anaa rallied local Pashtoon fighters against the British troops at the Battle of Maiwand during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. When the Afghan army was losing morale, despite their superior number, Malalai raised the Afghan flag and shouted:”Young love! If you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand, By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!” Her words inspired her countrymen and bolstered their courage to continue fighting and win the war.
Those days when a woman’s words led an army to victory are long forgotten. The Taliban era certainly did put an end to all that. Darkness struck the lives of many Afghan women. Their roles in society remained stagnant in this period and the Burqa formed their sole identity. The era from September 1996 until December 2001 was when Afghan women and girls were systematically discriminated, their rights were violated, and they were deprived of education, employment and healthcare. But, even so, is the role of Afghan women only limited to this era?
Ever since the establishment of the new government, a number of our women have risen back and have left the dark days behind. Their achievements have been instrumental in shaping the lives of other women and paving the road for future generations. These women have marked their names in the history of Afghanistan and have proven that women are an integral fraction of Afghanistan’s society. Why is it then when asked for an Afghan woman’s voice, the voice that speaks, speaks only of issues and challenges that our women are facing? Why do we not appreciate those very women who gave many sacrifices only to enable other women to realize their rights and to prove that they are needed to build the country?
Considerable progress has been made when comparing the condition of Afghan women today to their condition during the Taliban era. While a decade ago women were denied education, today one-third of students enrolled in schools are girls. The number of female students attending schools has increased by 40%, and the number of female students in universities has gone up by 19%. The number of female teachers in schools and female lecturers in universities has increased up to 31% and 15% respectively.
In the arena of politics, the Afghan government appointed its first female provincial governor Habiba Sorabi in 2005, and Azra Jafari became the country’s first female mayor in 2009. Very recently, a female-led political movement, called the Wave of Change, was unveiled. Led by influential female lawmaker and outspoken rights campaigner, Fauzia Kofi, the movement is hailed as an important stride towards consolidating the fragile gains made by Afghan women and inspiring them to take part in public life. There are three Afghan women currently serving in the Cabinet: Amina Afzali, minister of Work Social Affairs, Soraya Dalil, minister of Public Health, and Husn Bano Ghazanfar, minister of Women’s Affairs. It is important to realize that we have more representation of women in the cabinet compared to other much more developed countries, like Australia.
A significant number of our women have entered the economic mainstream where they have taken up jobs of various kinds and contributed to the economic growth. Some have become successful entrepreneurs. Meena Rahmani is the first Afghan woman in Afghanistan to open the USD 1 million bowling center in Kabul that serves as one of the few entertainment places in the city. There is the inspiring story of Kamila Sidiqi, who started as a dressmaker during the time of Taliban but is now one of the famous Afghan women entrepreneurs. She is sowing the entrepreneurial seeds to other Afghan women through her consultancy firm. The technology entrepreneur, Roya Mahboob, changed the continuing stereotype that Afghan women are only meant to be housewives by involving women in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector through establishing the Citadel Software Company. She also founded a multilingual blog and video site that provide women a platform for telling their stories and raising their voices, in an effort to change the way the world sees Afghanistan and how Afghan girls and women see themselves.
These accomplishments of Afghan women should not be taken for granted. The progress made by Afghan women in various spheres of the country is a manifestation that women have a chance to keep moving forward. Hope in a brighter future for Afghan women still remains. If years of turmoil and subjugation did not thwart women from raising their voices and retaining their positions in society, then there really is nothing that can stop them from accomplishing more. It is unfeasible to deny the existing issues and challenges of Afghan women, but, at the same time, it is uplifting to recognize their progress in Afghan society. Afghan women have proven their potentials continuously, but the possibility of even greater success exists.
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By Asad Ziar. Selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or smartphone held in the hand