Women in Afganistan are one of the most vunerable groups among many other post conflict countries in the world. Additionally, for a woman to get decent education is not easy. According to World Bank data, net enrollment at the end of the Taliban regime in 2001 was 43% for boys but wretchedly 3% for girls. Since 2002, school enrollment has increased drastically. Number of girls in secondary education has bossted from 3% to 36%, despite the fact that there are still barriers that prevents female students to attend schools; additionally, access to higher education remains a massive challenge, especially in remote and rural areas.
Gender inequality is very common in Afghanistan and gender studies are needed to deal with the issues people face on daily basis.” says Professor Ghulam Farooq Abdullah, Dean of Social Science faculty at Kabul University.
The economic situation in Afghanistan is even worse for women than it is for men. Entering the workforce is more difficult for women in conservative households which will not allow women to work. In fact, making a woman work outside home for money is perceived as shameful by many members of Afghan society. Some of the difficulties women face in procuring jobs outside of the household are due to societal values and concepts of masculinity. Namus, which relates to gaining honor through the protection of property and women, and gheirat, which is the act of showing “manliness”, are masculine values that dictate the behaviors of some groups within Afghanistan and restrict women’s ability to seek employment. Some men may oppose female employment because by becoming active in the workforce, women are entering into what was considered a male dominated sphere, thus making men feel threatened. Some believe that allowing women to work “competes with their [men’s] own identities as providers,” (Kitch, 2014, p. 207).
Another rationale that is given for not allowing women into the workplace is that it is against Islamic values which is very man made. The Islamist Economy Minister, Arghandiwal, said, “What we want for Afghanistan is Islamic rights, not Western rights,” (Kitch, 2014 as cited in Baker, 2010, p. 3 102). By Western rights, Arghandiwal is referring to feminist values, such as a woman choosing to work and create her own income. However, in implying that these values are somehow anti-Islamic, he is ignoring the fact that Islam has several of feminist ideals. For instance, Khadija, the Prophet’s first wife, was a successful businesswoman who continued to work after marriage. Quran’s support of female education, and that “women and men have equal status before Allah, although they play complementary roles” (Kitch, 2014, p. 44). Men who have grown use to financial control in the family are resistant to relinquishing any of that power to women.
Participating in the local economy is especially difficult for widows who lack someone to act as their male chaperon for when they go out in public (Eggerman & Panter-Brick, 2010). Women make up only 8% of the total population of people working in the non-agricultural sector though their participation in education is increasing (Office of the Deputy Ministry of Youth Affairs, 2013). When women are permitted to work their work and wages are controlled by an older male family member. Female family members are considered resources to increase wealth in the family. When a governor in Kunduz was asked who would receive payment for a carpet which five women were collaboratively weaving, he replied, “Why the man of course, the woman belongs to the man,” (Moghadam, 1997, p. 78). While female participation is still very low and their capacity to contribute is determined by male family members, increased school enrollment could potentially lead to more women entering into non-agricultural sectors and asserting more agency in coming years.
However, though school enrollment is increasing for girls, there are still barriers to that. Very religious families may disapprove of the more secular teachings and refuse to educate girls. Female students often report being verbally abused on the street by men in the community, which can be conceived as a kind of dishonor upon their family. Some parents may choose to avoid those problems by denying their daughters an education (Bohannon, 2012). Some men believe that women should not be educated because it is not in line with Islam and makes women sexually promiscuous, even though education is supported by the religion. In discussing women’s rights, the continued presence of the Taliban and Taliban sympathizers cannot be ignored. They send threatening messages to women and are responsible for heinous assaults such as acid attacks and burning down schools all in an attempt to silence women. Through the fear of attacks, however, many girls continue to attend school. Following a school burning, Maymoud Ayub Saber, a principal of a burned school said, “If some girls were occasionally absent before this happened, their parents are saying from now on none of their daughters will miss a single day,” (Osbron, Dalton, Ruby, & Young, 2003, pg 5).
Recently, some of the international funding agencies have initiated programs that aims to address the gender gap in Afghanistan.