Women empowerment in Afghanistan: A distant dream
FOLLOWING the takeover of Kabul, the Taliban have been busy in redirecting the path of social progress in the country.
Their strict interpretation of Islamic laws and traditions has affected the prospects of millions of Afghan women in the country.
Under the new government, the opportunities for attaining quality education and earning livelihoods are limited.
With the Taliban rulers struggling to secure financial resources to run the affairs of the state, it seems likely that empowerment of women will be neglected or deliberately curtailed.
The difficulties faced by women in the country right now however cannot be entirely blamed on the present regime.
The US backed governments in the past also failed to deliver the right opportunities and environment to help them overcome the societal shackles.
The Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey 2016/2017 shows that gender gap in school attendance starts widening after the adolescence stage.
This is mainly because girls faced more barriers as they grew older. The survey also shows that male students outnumbered female students by more than three times at the tertiary level.
During their rule, the US backed governments failed to control poverty and provide economic opportunities to uplift the Afghan population.
In one of its reports, the United States Institute of Peace pointed towards the lack of capacity of Afghan officials to properly deploy the assistance provided to the country.
Moreover, the donors started bypassing the Afghan officials as they grew frustrated with the lack of results and rampant corruption in the country.
Unsurprisingly, the number of people living below the poverty line continued to rise during the so-called nation building era.
For the women, corruption turned out to have more severe consequences because the people entrusted by the international community to provide relief and opportunities to Afghan women had struck deals with highly conservative warlords for political gains.
Lack of opportunities, corruption and negligence paved the way for the Taliban to recruit more and more youth and the organization grew stronger with time.
As the US exit became certain, fears grew over the treatment of women under the Taliban regime once it took over.
In the lead up to their takeover of Kabul, the Taliban representatives gave indication that the new era of Taliban rule in the country would be less conservative than the previous one and girls would be allowed to attain education.
Unfortunately and perhaps not to the surprise of many, the Taliban government has backtracked on its promise and has so far not allowed girls in senior grades to return back to school.
According to the government, these schools would remain shut until they finalize a plan according to Islamic laws and principles.
Similarly, working women or those who are eligible for work have not found it easy under the present government.
Decreases in funding and government support along with growing restrictions have severely impacted women’s economic and social wellbeing prospects.
According to the International Labour Organization, there was a drop of 16 per cent in women’s employment in Afghanistan during the third quarter of 2021.
Over the years, Afghan women have proven their talents at world stage but the imminent takeover of Taliban pushed many of them to flee the country including the members of famed Afghan Girls Robotics Team which became to be known as “Afghan dreamers”.
Despite limited resources, their efforts received global plaudits and they went on to represent Afghanistan in international competitions.
Commenting on their achievements, a United Nations Children’s Fund representative stated that “these girls shone a spotlight on the importance of girls’ education and they put Afghanistan on the global stage for all the right reasons.
” Those members who managed to escape are continuing their impressive journey but remain anxious about their remaining team members and all the girls in Afghanistan.
Expressing her concerns, one of the team members stated that “it’s not clear if they can continue their education or not, or whether they can pursue their dreams or not.
How will their future be? Everything is uncertain.” Indeed, the present situation and the Taliban regime’s stance provide little hope of a bright future for Afghani women.
Despite overcoming several challenges and standing firm against oppression for several years, they still await their rewards.
Since the regime change, the international community has not been able to do much for the women in the country while many of the projects have stalled.
The economic crisis faced by the country is also having its toll on women and children in the country.
Marginalizing women and denying them the opportunity to play their role in the economic and social development of the country would only increase economic challenges and ultimately weaken the standing of the Taliban regime.
One thing the Taliban regime cannot break down is the spirit of the Afghani women who are determined to lead a better life.
The sooner they realize and accept that women empowerment is endorsed by Islam, the better it would be for the present and future generations of the country.
—The author is a researcher based in Islamabad.
He holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Queen Mary University of London.