Afghanistan, a nation once rich in history and culture, has now earned the lamentable distinction of being ranked as the worst country in the world for women's rights. This dispiriting verdict emerges from extensive research conducted by the George Washington Institute and the Oslo Peace Research Institute, as reported by Khaama Press on October 26, 2023. The nation has also recently witnessed a distressing surge in human rights violations, particularly against women. A recent United Nations report sheds light on a concerning development: the Taliban's practice of sending Afghan women to prison, purportedly to shield them from gender-based violence.
The harrowing situation unfolds further with the Afghan Witness's meticulous scrutiny of over 78,000 posts targeting politically active women between June 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021, and the corresponding period in 2022. Concurrently, the project engaged in interviews with Afghan women, delving deep into the nature of the online abuse they endured and revealing the profound impact on their lives. Amid this darkness, India's stance at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) shines as a ray of hope, emphasizing the pivotal role of women as agents of social change and cohesion.
Why Is Afghanistan The Worst Country For Women?
Afghanistan has earned the lamentable distinction of being ranked as the worst country in the world for women's rights, out of a staggering total of 177 countries. This dispiriting verdict emerges from extensive research conducted by the George Washington Institute and the Oslo Peace Research Institute, as somberly reported by Khaama Press on October 26, 2023.
The director of the Oslo Peace Institute, in her solemn declaration, sounds the clarion of alarm, resonating in the ears of world leaders who have turned their gaze away from the plight of Afghan women. A warning bell reverberates through the corridors of power, proclaiming the misery that has befallen women in Afghanistan, their cries muffled by the weight of oppression.
In the words of Torunn L. Tryggestad, the head of the Oslo Peace Research Centre, "Afghan women begin each day without jobs, education, and freedom." Her words are a stark reminder that this dire situation is not just a local issue; it is a global concern.
India's Stance on Women as Agents of Change
Yojna Patel, India's Deputy Permanent Representative (DPR) to the United Nations, recently addressed a critical debate on "Women's participation in International Peace and Security from Theory to Practice."
"Women are agents of social change and social cohesion," declared Patel. Her words, as profound as they are succinct, capture the essence of what many in the international community have come to recognise: the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women are linchpins in maintaining international peace and security.
Patel points to sobering statistics that reveal the stark gender disparities in UN Peacekeeping missions, where women constitute a mere 4.8% of military contingents and 10.9% of formed police units. The gender perspective remains a neglected dimension in conflict prevention, recovery, and reconstruction.
Women in Afghanistan
Afghanistan's descent into the abyss of gender inequality and suffering can be traced to its categorization as a "fragile state." The term itself is a sombre epitaph for the bleak fate that awaits women in such regions. After the Taliban's resurgence in 2021, the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan precipitously worsened, casting a pall of despair over the nation.
Ongoing Plight of Women's Rights in Afghanistan
To understand the ongoing plight of women's rights in Afghanistan, look at the recent instance of Neda Parwan and Zholia Parsi, two fierce advocates of human rights who have been unjustly detained by Afghanistan's de facto authorities for more than a month, highlighting the plight of women who dare to speak out against injustice.
The cruel irony lies in the fact that no legitimate reasons have been provided for their arrests. It appears that they are paying a steep price for exercising their fundamental right to engage in peaceful protests, a right enshrined in international human rights law. The distressing situation doesn't end with Neda Parwan and Zholia Parsi. Their family members are also caught in this web of uncertainty and fear. Neda Parwan's husband and Zholia Parsi's adult son have also been placed in custody, their lives in disarray
The UN experts warn against depriving individuals of their liberty merely for expressing dissenting views and exercising their legitimate rights. "The release of Ms. Parwan and Ms. Parsi and their family members from detention is an urgent matter. After more than a month in detention, we are increasingly concerned about their physical and mental well-being," declare UN experts.
Education: A Fading Dream
The right to education, a fundamental cornerstone of progress and empowerment, has become a distant dream for Afghan women. On average, women in Afghanistan have access to only three years of education. The spectre of ignorance looms large, stifling their potential and limiting their horizons.
The Taliban's ban on women attending schools beyond the sixth grade, which was imposed last December, triggered global outrage. Afghanistan stands as the only country in the world with such restrictions on female education. However, Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the minister for higher education in the Taliban government, insisted that women students had not followed Islamic instructions, including appropriate dress and being accompanied by a male relative when travelling.
"Unfortunately, after 14 months, the instructions of the Ministry of Higher Education of the Islamic Emirate regarding the education of women were not implemented," Nadeem said in a state television interview. "They were dressing inappropriately as if attending a wedding. Moreover, some science subjects were deemed unsuitable for women, such as engineering and agriculture, as they were considered inconsistent with the dignity and honor of female students and Afghan culture."
The world watches in anguish as the future of an entire generation of Afghan women is eclipsed by this shadow of educational deprivation.
Economic autonomy and financial freedom, critical for self-sufficiency, remain elusive for Afghan women. Shockingly, fewer than five percent of women have access to their bank accounts, perpetuating a cycle of financial dependency. This inequality has led to the barring of women from working for the United Nations or NGOs, along with the dismissal of thousands from government jobs or their relegation to meagre wages for staying at home.
A recent ban on beauty salons in July 2023 is just one more in a series of restrictions imposed by the Taliban on women in Afghanistan. More than 60,000 women are poised to lose their jobs, while 12,000 beauty businesses face the threat of closure, adding further strain to an already fragile economy.
Living on the Brink: Proximity to Conflict
Over 90 percent of Afghan women are forced to inhabit areas rife with armed conflict. The constant threat of violence hangs over their lives like the sword of Damocles. The stark reality is that safety and security are elusive concepts, and Afghan women live in perpetual fear for their lives and those of their loved ones.
Maternal Mortality: A Grim Reality
Afghanistan's maternal mortality rates rank among the ten worst in the world, a chilling testament to the perilous conditions faced by expectant mothers. The lack of access to quality healthcare and a dearth of essential medical resources further exacerbate this crisis, condemning women to a fate that should be unthinkable in the 21st century.
The Closing of Women's Protection Centres
Before the Taliban assumed power, Afghanistan boasted 23 state-run women's protection centres, offering refuge to victims of gender-based violence. However, the Taliban's dismissal of these shelters as a 'Western concept' has resulted in a shocking alternative: sending vulnerable women to prison. Officials from the Taliban-led administration argue against the need for such shelters, leaving women with no male relatives or those deeming their male relatives unsafe with no alternative but incarceration.
The UN report reveals an unsettling protocol where authorities demand commitments or sworn statements from male relatives, vowing not to harm their female counterparts. The report draws parallels between this practice and the use of prisons to accommodate drug addicts and homeless individuals in Kabul.
Rising Suicide Rates
While there are no reliable statistics that compile suicides in Afghanistan, experts like human rights organisations and doctors note the rising number of women taking their own lives under Taliban rule. An anonymous doctor told CNN that he has been working six days a week and longer hours than ever, seeing patients at a mental health clinic in Afghanistan’s western Herat province.
The doctor said that the number of female patients at his clinic has surged 40% to 50% since the Taliban’s takeover two years ago. Around 10% of those patients kill themselves. He said they consume rat poison, liquid chemicals, cleaning fluids, or any other cheap household items that they can use to end the grief.
He said that he tries to tell them that things will get better, schools will reopen and they can work at home while they wait, but the truth is he does not know if the education ban would ever be lifted. “Last year, everyone had a hope that next year the schools will be open. The government promised that they will open the schools... But since this year the schools are not open, people lost their hopes. I feel like the number of suicides will increase," he told CNN.
His hope is fading, he said. "I don’t see any good future for anyone in this country," he said.
However, the Taliban’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement in January, claiming that female suicide rates had fallen since they came to power. “In the last 20 years, there were many cases (sic) of women committing suicide, but by the grace of Allah, we do not have such cases now,” the statement said.
The claim is contradicted by multiple reports, including from UN experts, who said in July that “reports of depression and suicide are widespread, especially among adolescent girls prevented from pursuing education.”
Escalating Online Abuse
A recent report by Afghan Witness reveals that, amidst increasing restrictions imposed by the Taliban, social media platforms have become vital spaces for women to express their views and campaign for their rights. However, these digital arenas are not without risks.
The report details a 217% increase in 78,000 posts containing gendered hate speech and abuse terms targeting prominent Afghan women between June and December 2021 and the same period in 2022.
The abuse, predominantly sexualized, includes explicit content, threats of sexual assault, rape, and death. The impact extends beyond the digital realm, intertwining with real-life interactions, instilling fear, anxiety, and stress among women and affecting family relationship
A Glimpse of Freedom Denied
The Taliban's grip on women's social lives, economic activities, political engagement, and employment opportunities has transformed Afghanistan into a living nightmare for its female population. Women have been slowly pushed out of public life, barred from travel without a male relative, and mandated to wear concealing attire in public spaces. Parks, fairs, gyms, and public baths are no longer accessible to them.
Afghan women, deprived of opportunities, live each day void of jobs, education, and freedom. It's a chilling reality that refuses to loosen its grip.
The women of Afghanistan deserve better than the suffocating darkness that engulfs them. Their plight is a blight on the conscience of humanity, and it's high time we collectively work to dispel this gloom and usher in a brighter future for the women of Afghanistan.
Personal views expressed by the author are their own