Events

Afghanistan in Transition? Problems and Prospects for Women

April 17, 2002 // 12:00am

At the Wilson Center on April 17, 2002, Dr. Valentine Moghadam addressed problems associated with meeting practical needs and strategic interests of women in Afghanistan.

Dr. Moghadam said historically, the advancement of women's rights in Afghanistan has been limited by the patriarchal nature of gender and social relations, the existence of a weak central state, and the opportunistic intervention by neighboring countries and the West. She argued that in at least three periods during the 20th century, women's rights became highly politicized and central to political conflicts in Afghanistan. The first period was in the 1920s, when efforts by reformers to improve women's status and education was met with resistance by traditionalists. The second period occurred in the 1980s, when Marxists modernizers and Islamic traditionalists fought a bloody war over divergent political agendas and conceptions of "women's place." The third period, the 1990s, saw the rise of the Taliban and its draconian policies against not only women, but women's very visibility.

With the fall of Taliban regime in Afghanistan in October 2001, the country is currently experiencing a political transition. "What form of governance emerges is unclear. It is similarly unclear how women will fare, given the continuing warfare and lack of clarity regarding women and gender issues on the part of the current leadership," said Moghadam. In November 2001, Afghan official representatives met in Bonn and established a six-month multiethnic interim government. Two women, Dr. Soheila Siddiqi and Dr. Sima Samar, were appointed to head the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, respectively.

Since Bonn, there have been some encouraging signs for the improvement of Afghan women's lives. According to Moghadam, these signs include: interim leader Hamid Karzai's promise of equality and education for women and girls, commitments to the health and education of women and girls by various United nations agencies, and the inclusion of some women in the upcoming Loya Jirga (Afghanistan's Assembly of Elders). However, the most critical official bodies have not given sufficient attention to Afghan women's needs and rights in the Post Taliban era, and promises of funding have yet to be realized. Additionally, continued warfare and the lack of security of women is a major impediment. Noting that research in the field of gender and development has shown a significant correlation between women's status and state policies, Moghadam emphasized that the welfare and rights of Afghan women will depend on the success of peace keeping, the type of government and legal system that are formed, the reconstruction of the country's social and physical infrastructure, and the amount and allocation of foreign aid provided to Afghanistan and to the Women’s Ministry.

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