International Women’s Day celebrates women who contribute to the well-being and development of our global community. Similarly, in Afghanistan, this day has been celebrated to pay due respect to those brave women who dare raise their voice for their fellow women that are living the life of struggles and miseries. It is a day that reminds us the plight of thousands of women that suffer from cultural taboos. Though some progress has been made, Afghan women continue to suffer from physical violence, sexual harassment, blackmailing, extreme poverty, illiteracy, victims of the protracted conflict daily.
Under the vicious control of Mujahideen, women were imprisoned, and their freedom was enchained. They were not allowed to work in the office nor could they appear on TV because the Mujahideen were aiming to establish ‘Umary Khilafat’ in their own translated version under the name of Islam. However, throughout the history of Islam women have played a significant role in the transformation of societies. The era of Taliban continued the same restrictive tactics as the Mujahideen. They didn’t allow women to move freely, obtain education and play a role as active citizens. After the fall of Taliban, women have made significant progress in their personal, professional, social, political and economic lives.
It is worth mentioning that the economy benefits from the development of a capable and resilient female workforce today. Their share of activities in the informal economy, their unpaid labour contribution, and their formal involvement in enterprises make women, growth enablers. Today in Afghanistan women are occupying space in the market and getting ready for competition with women and male counterparts. Educated and economically independent women are altering the power relations and decision-making in the household or, in other words, changing the very social fabric of our society. The active participation of women in the governance, and security sector is an indication of walking many milestones to reach there.
The efforts towards education, has allowed for the awareness of their rights, their participation as recipient of development outcomes and gradually as active demographics of development. Their willingness to participate is the driving force towards democratic process making transitions possible. Despite challenges, the political atmosphere and social space are embracing women’s participation much better than the previous decade. Women are part of peace councils, negotiating their rights with parties. They are also taking part in the security of the country and are members of the security forces. These signs of progress were not possible without a viable partnership and accountability between the government of Afghanistan and the international community. However, despite the assistance of the international community, the plight of women remains a challenge both for the Afghan government and its international partners.
It is vital to bring changes from the grassroots level in all regions of Afghanistan than simply concentrate on women living in the urban areas. If we have success cases of women empowerment in Afghanistan, then the poignant incident of Farkhunda will diminish. It is not easy to change things overnights and put a country on the trajectory of development and prosperity, especially when it was brought into a rubble by four decades of war, and instability. Wars that have killed, maimed and forced millions of people to flee their homes for safety, destroyed country’s entire infrastructure and maligned its culture. The plight of changing women situation in a patriarchal society is a generational change and the actors involved must be ready to embrace this harsh reality.
However, what Afghans need to learn is that without the equal and active participation of both men and women, long-term and sustainable development is not possible. Because when we talk about women empowerment and gender equality, about equal opportunities and space for women, we truly must implement these objectives. Today, women make around 49% of the Afghan population. In a simple term if around 49% of your workforce is uneducated, illiterate and has no space to work it signifies that you have a population which is dependent and cannot contribute to the well- being and development of the country. Thus, to unleash the dream of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan it is imperative for both men and women to support one another and work shoulder to shoulder.
Aziz Amin Ahmadzai writes on political and security issues in South Asia. He is a Chevening Scholar and Afghan government official. He tweets @azizamin786.