CBC In Depth
The women of Afghanistan
CBC News Online | March 1, 2005

Afghanistan's judo athlete Friba Razayee, 18, poses for a photo at the end of her team's welcome ceremony at the Olympic Games 2004 in Athens.
Robina Muqimyar said she felt like a winner, even though she had the second-slowest time among 63 women in the 100-metre trials at the Athens Olympics. The 18-year-old, who ran 14.14 seconds, set an Afghan record in the event. More importantly, Muqimyar and Friba Razayee (a judo competitor) were the first Afghan women to compete in the Games.

"I hope I can open the way for the Afghan women," said Muqimyar through an interpreter at a news conference. "I will never ever forget this moment in my life."

The accomplishments of the two women are enormous considering the conditions Afghan women endured under the Taliban regime from1996 to 2001.

Quick Facts
15,000 Afghan women die each year from pregnancy-related causes

One to two per cent of Afghan women have identity cards. That means the rest are without formal papers or citizenship

54 per cent of girls under 18 are married

In Kabul, half of girls under 18 go to school. Outside of Kabul, only nine per cent of girls under 18 go to school

Out of 4 million young Afghans attending school, only one-quarter are girls

40 per cent of the country's 1,038 healthcare facilities have no female health workers

SOURCES: World Health Organization, Management Sciences, UNIFEM, Physicians for Human Rights

The Taliban, an extremist Muslim militia of men, stripped women of many of their basic human rights. The Taliban:
  • Banned women from working.
  • Closed schools for girls and barred women from universities.
  • Prohibited women from leaving their homes unless escorted by a close male relative.
  • Forced women to wear the burqa – a long robe covering them from head to toe, except for a small mesh opening at the eyes.
  • Beat, publicly flogged or killed women for violating Taliban decrees.
Prior to the Taliban, half the students at Kabul University as well as half the government workforce were women. Women comprised 70 per cent of school teachers and 40 per cent of doctors.

The post-Taliban era

The situation for women in the country remains unstable. In August 2004, The United Nations reported it had registered more than 10 million Afghans to vote – 40 per cent of them women. During the registration drive, a bomb exploded on a bus filled with female election workers, killing two of them. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

Women are always at risk in present-day Afghanistan. On one hand, they can go to school and work, yet, according to many aid organizations, these freedoms are largely restricted to the capital of Kabul. Many women still fear reprisals so they wear the burqa and opt to stay at home.

Afghan women clad in burqas beg for alms along a street in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
According to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an Afghan women's rights organization, incidents of rape and forced marriages of girls under 18 are on the rise again. RAWA says the Ministry of Women's Affairs has no legal jurisdiction and no power to implement any orders.

Old ways pervade the new government. In a New York Times article from Dec. 16, 2003, Sighbatullah Mojadeddi, head of the Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga, said "Even God has not given [women] equal rights because under his decision, two women are counted as equal to one man." The Loya Jirga is an assembly of tribal elders. It's where decisions are made on issues of national importance.

In areas outside Kabul, restrictions have been reimposed. In Herat, the governor decreed women could not travel with men who are not related to them. Throughout the country, dozens of girls' schools have been set on fire. In May 2004, three girls were poisoned in the southeastern town of Khost for attending school. They had eaten biscuits given to them by a man.

In April 2004, the provincial government in Jalalabad ordered state-run television to stop broadcasting the performances of Afghan women singers. The governor declared female entertainers "un-Islamic." After pressure from the Afghan government, the ban was lifted.

Quick Facts
Afghanistan's Women of Power

Habiba Sorabi - first Minister of Women's Affairs

Dr. Suhaila Seddiqi - Minister of Public Health in post-Taliban government

Dr. Sima Samar - Chair, Independent Human Rights Commission

Widespread violence against women

A 2003 report by human rights watchdog Amnesty International listed a litany of concerns by Afghan women. The report said women in rural areas, where 85 per cent of the population lives, feared roving militia groups. Lawlessness in these regions made "their lives worse than during the Taliban era."

The report talked about widespread domestic violence, forced marriages of girls as young as eight to older men, and rape by armed gangs. The report said women who are detained are often subjected to physical examinations of their virginity carried out by male forensic specialists. Female prisoners have protested against sexual abuse by staff.

Amnesty said the justice system in Afghanistan is "too weak to offer effective protection of women's right to life and physical security, and itself subjects them to discrimination and abuse."

Into the future

The Loya Jirga ratified the country's new constitution in January 2004. It requires each of the 32 provinces to send two female delegates to the lower house. The constitution states that "the citizens of Afghanistan – whether man or woman – have equal rights and duties before the law." The constitution also maintains, "No law shall be contrary to the beliefs and practices of Islam." Critics of the constitution say that clause will hamper women's rights in the country.

Despite the barriers, Afghan women remain dogged in their fight for equality. Massouda Jalal became the first Afghan woman to run for president in the October 2004 election. She worked as a doctor and ran an underground school for girls during the Taliban's reign. Despite receiving death threats while she campaigned, she vowed to continue on the trail.


CANADA'S INVOLVEMENT: Canada in Afghanistan Danger pay Q&A with ambassador Text of the PM's speech to Canadian troops Timeline Kandahar patrol Canada's casualties Canadian units Canada's Equipment
ISSUES: Improvised Explosive Device The women of Afghanistan The Taliban Afghanistan: Still no peace Schools in Afghanistan
PEOPLE AND PLACES: Hamid Karzai Kabul Kandahar Mazar e Sharif
PHOTO GALLERIES: Afghan patrols Mountain Thrust Afghan offensive Road to Martello Reporting from Kandahar HARPER IN AFGHANISTAN – Monday, March 13, 2006 – Sunday, March 12, 2006 Canadians in Kandahar On the ground Afghanistan in 2004
VIDEO FEATURES: Warlords take office (Real Video runs 12:20) Carolyn Dunn visits Afghan's refugee camps (Real Video runs 2:53)
VIEWPOINT: Cpl. Brian Sanders Russell D. Storring Aisha Ahmad

Amnesty International report on Afghan women

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan

Feminist Majority Foundation

Afghan Women's Association International

UNIFEM: UN Development Fund for Women

Capital: Kabul

Area: 647,500 km sq. (same size as Manitoba)

Population: 28,513,000 (2004)

Head of State: Hamid Karzai

Unemployment: 78%

GDP (2003): $20 billion US (est.)

Exports to Canada (2003): $618,889

Imports from Canada (2003): $9 million

Median Age: 17.5

Life expectancy at birth: 42.46

Ethnic groups: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%

(Source: CIA World Fact Book, Government of Canada)
CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites. Links will open in new window.

Operation Athena

NATO in Afghanistan

CIA World Factbook, Afghanistan

Print this page

Send a comment

Indepth Index