The women of Afghanistan truly know what the word “struggle” means. For centuries they have been denied rights that men were allowed to have such as the right to vote, the right work, inheritance, and marriage partners. These rights were stripped away by their own husbands, fathers, and brother in addition to official government officials. Afghan women were subject to the worst treatment in international recorded history during the Taliban’s rule (1996 to 2001). They weren’t allowed to leave the house without a male accompaniment, they were not allowed to work, they were forced to wear the completely covering burqa, and could not seek medical help from a doctor unless the doctor was female. Women who were teachers and doctors before the Taliban took over ended up as beggars and sometimes even prostitutes to take care of their families.
Since the Taliban’s fall in 2001 the lives of Afghan women have improved immensely. Women are now allowed to return back to work, they are allowed to wear what they would like, and even have positions in the government. However, the road for equality is far from over in many parts of Afghanistan, as evidenced by the Boston’s Globe’s recent ranking of Afghanistan as #1 of the Most Dangerous Countries for Women list. Many families restrict women and girls from participating in public life and are forced into marriages that they do not want to have and denied education. Stories of girls’ schools being burned and girls being poisoned for attending school are not uncommon.
In 2007 it was reported that:
- Every 30 minutes an Afghan woman dies during childbirth
- 87% of Afghan women are illiterate
- 30% of girls have access to education in Afghanistan
- 1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence
- The average life expectancy rate for women in Afghanistan is 44 years old
- Between 70% and 80% of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan
Another reason why things are looking up for Afghan women is because of organizations that are being created to teach women that enough is enough. Anita Haidary (pictured left) from Mount Holyoke College and Noor Jahan Akbar, a student at Dickinson College, founded Young Women for Change (YWC) this past spring. Their mission is “to help increase the political, social, economic and cultural participation of women across the country.”
This group has held discussions at their meetings focusing on the sexual harassment of women and the organizers said that, “Women often remain silent when they are harassed and men believe it is normal to assault women.” Therefore, they hope that “sexual harassment will be recognized as a problem, discussed in the Afghan media, and men – rather than the victims who are women – will be held responsible for their disrespectful behavior.”
On July 14, 50 courageous men and women marched from Kabul University to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. They held signs and passed out fliers to help raise awareness about the problem of street harassment in their home country. Some bystanders were shocked by what was happening while others were supportive and took fliers and started walking with the marchers. This first step brought much attention to the issue, as more than 15 members of the media attended the march as it was reported for both TV and radio shows in Afghanistan and internationally through outlets such as BBC, MSNBC, and Reuters.
This not only marks an impressive first step, as just a couple years ago girls faced acid attacks for not obeying exactly what the Taliban told them to do. YWC’s plans to hold a press conference on the importance of media’s advocacy against street harassment and to do a city-wide research project that will survey thousands of men and women about street harassment. In addition Anita Haidary is currently working on a documentary dedicated to Young Women for Change about stress harassment, what it is doing to the Afghan community, why it is happening, and how people can help solve this problem. With big steps towards change the future looks much brighter than it has in a while for women and girls in Afghanistan. As Anita Haidry has said, “اگر ما می خواهیم افغانستان را آرام و متمدن ببینیم ما باید برای ان کار کنیم و آن تنها کار مردان نیست ، بلکه زنان هم باید با انها برار در باز سازی سهیم شوند” which means “If we want to see Afghanistan peaceful and civilized we have to work for it, and that work is not only responsibility of men but women as well.”
Alexis Myers is a Featured Blogger for Mobilize.org’s The Millennial Report. Myers is a rising sophomore at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. and is originally from Phoenix Ariz. She is an advocate against violence towards women and loves to do community service and feels that it should be a part of everyone’s life. Megan Emme is the New Media Coordinator at Mobilize.org and runs their blogging program, The Millennial Report. Megan is a Junior at San Francisco State University and also works as the SF Regional Coordinator for the Revolution Hunger Campaign. She hopes to pursue a career empowering young people to advocate for themselves as well as make a difference in their communities.
Megan Emme is the New Media Coordinator at Mobilize.org and runs their blogging program, The Millennial Report. Megan is a Junior at San Francisco State University and also works as the SF Regional Coordinator for the Revolution Hunger Campaign. She hopes to pursue a career empowering young people to advocate for themselves as well as make a difference in their communities.