What is the Future for Women in Afghanistan?

The news about Afghanistan hasn’t been good lately: a recent report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee baldly declared that the country could suffer a severe economic depression after the United States’ scheduled departure in 2014.  A new interview from UN Dispatch had a more hopeful perspective, however.  In it, feminist activist Noorjahan Akbar, a sophomore at Dickinson College, describes the nascent feminist movement among Afghan women who are determined to see real progress on their streets and in their homes.

Akbar and her colleagues have their work cut out for them, though: a distressing piece from the Guardian details some of the violence perpetrated by women who dare to step into public life.  How will women will agitate for their rights when their lives and personal safety are at stake?

The actions of a handful of young feminists are a beam of light.  Fed up with the slow pace of reform, Akbar and a group of young feminists formed Young Women for Change earlier this year.  One of its goals is to recruit young women to do grassroots activism against everyday issues like street harassment, and changing trends in women’s rights more broadly.  Later this month, the group will host the first ever public demonstration against street harassment.  In a Facebook event, the activists ”invite Afghan youth from across the city to participate in this walk and support us in creating a powerful voice against the un-Islamic acts of women’s harassments.”

Asked how she thought authorities would react to the event, Akbar said, “I am sure we will face harassment anyway. We will have a permit for the march, but I am sure the police will stop us and question us anyway. I just hope no one gets hurt. There are risks, but this is an important step and someone needs to take it.”

Akbar is, by her own admission, lucky.  She has a supportive family and the ability to access an education outside of Afghanistan, two things that enable her to speak out so firmly and fearlessly for women’s rights.  It’s to her credit that she realizes how privileged she is, and wants to organize to improve rights for all women in her home country.

As Minority Rights Group International points out, however, most Afghan women are not so fortunate.  A report from the organization articulated the threat of violence that affects ”women at every level in society and from all ethnic and religious groups.”  Especially disturbing are the “night letters” sent to women who venture into the public sphere.  According to the report, “these ‘night letters’ are written threats delivered at night to a home or mosque, addressed to individuals… they are followed up with real violence, and in some cases murder.”  Poisoning in girls’ schools is another deadly retaliation against women who openly seek an education.

The report is sobering, especially when read alongside Akbar’s heartening interview.  But taken together, the two pieces show how important it is to support the women who are already speaking out on behalf of women’s rights in Afghanistan, while attending to the violence perpetrated against women to keep them silenced.  It’s an enormous problem, but the actions of feminists like Akbar could slowly start to chip away at the threats and violence that women face.

Photo from Eric Draper via Wikimedia Commons.


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

I sincerely hope a much better one!

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

This is definitely a good start. The women in Afghanistan need a change for the better. They're not asking for anything that difficult. They just want to be seen as an equal human being with rights to education and respect.

K s Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

AbdulAziz A.
AbdulAziz A.5 years ago

Don't be kidded by comments about Sharia Laws and how they suppress women. Nothing can be far from the truth. Islam gives women the rights, respect and and space that no other religion does. Before some start bleeting about freedom of the Western women which was given to them less than a certuary ago and Muslims enjoyed over foruteen centuries since.

Afghans, Saudis and a few others Whaabi suppoted societies treat their women not as partners but as their properties and this goes exactly against the spirit of Islam.

Their behaviour is anti Islamic and inhumane.

Hayley Zacheis
Hayley Zacheis5 years ago

I hope these women achieve equal rights soon; I'm sure there is nothing worse than realizing that by being an Afghani female, you are treated worse than women almost anywhere else on the planet.

James Turkali
James Turkali5 years ago

As a Muslim, I must say that out of all Muslim countries on this earth, Afghani women are treated the worst among other Muslim nations. Women are treated like DIRT or slave, women in Afghanistan are worse than (ZERO) class citizens. they have no equal rights whatsoever. Women admit men are their master and they are to do whatever the man say. Islam Sharia never said that, its just made up by bunch of so called (wahabisim) from Saudi Arabia. Its like a PLAGUE, has gone through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and now BAHRAIN Islands ( a tiny Island country in the Persian Gulf). If we, dont stop it now, it will spread all over the Muslim countries. They marry more than one woman, and the funny part of it: some Afghani men they bring their wives here to the US under different family relationship category. I know an Afghani man who has TWO of his wives here in the US and two in Afghanistan. All wives are aware of the fact. How can they avoid and cheat the Immigration systems. As a Muslim I say that their kind of SHARIA is B******T !!!

Jon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy5 years ago

Muslim Laws are man made and they s**k big times. Excuse my french with the "**"

Jon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy5 years ago

That's just as much Rights as men. Sorry for the error. It urps me when women are done wrong.

Jon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy5 years ago

I surely hope these women get their equal rights and be-little the men of that nation. Now that would make History! Women have just as much tights as men or better in some cases.

Jon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy5 years ago

I surely hope these women get their equal rights and be-little the men of that nation. Now that would make History! Women have just as much tights as men or better in some cases.