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Afghanistan: A Graveyard of Gender Equality

Afghanistan has earned the nickname “Graveyard of Empires,” which hint at how hard Afghanistan is to control and govern. However, the country is not just a graveyard of empires but a graveyard of gender inequality as well. Jnifar Yumi explores and explains the state of women’s standing in the Afghan society in this paper, as well as other factors.

Written by Jnifar Gillur Yumi

Afghanistan is a landlocked country between Central and South Asia with a population of about 39,692,000 and a GDP growth rate of -1.7% in 2020, as per the UN Data Organization. Empire after empire, it has been proved how difficult it is to occupy and govern the country – thus giving the region the nickname “Graveyard of Empires,” which hint at how hard Afghanistan is to control and govern (Phillalamarri, 2017). 

Alongside the political instability within the country accompanied by inadequate infrastructure, systemic corruption has contributed to widespread poverty throughout the nation. In addition, extreme gender inequality is a severe issue in Afghanistan, which has also contributed to unacceptable rates of social and economic indicators. Thus this country is not just a graveyard of empires but a graveyard of gender inequality as well. This paper first explains the state of women’s standing in the society during the Taliban rule as well as post-Taliban rule, then explores and states evidence on why and how gender inequality is detrimental for country development, and finally considers the suggestions which could lead to possible improvements based on those evidence. 

Taliban Rule: Is This The Only Cause of Women Oppression?

2020 HDI Report on Afghanistan states that the Gender Inequality Index (GII), reflecting inequalities between men and women, ranks Afghanistan 157th out of 162 countries globally. Although the country saw improvements in the last few years, it is still in the lowest human development category. Women make up 50 per cent of the Afghan population – and community development only comes when voices of both men and women are equally heard. How can community develop if the potential of half of the Afghan population’s voices and rights are not realized or exercised? 

Figure 1: Source – Statistics – Gender Inequality In Afghanistan (weebly.com)

Women in Afghanistan were in a severe state during the Taliban rule as women did not have any equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and their tendency was to debilitate women’s rights and shrink socio-economic opportunities for them. Under the Taliban regime, women and girls were banned from going to school and working (BBC News, 2021); they were also banned from leaving the house without a male companion and showing their skin in public. 

The post-Taliban government gave Afghan women more freedom and rights which notably improved their socio-economic condition. The current Afghan government seems committed to women’s rights, at least for urban women with more easy access to education and jobs. This could be why the estimated GNI per capita shows $819 for females, although it is $3,566 for men in 2017 as per UNDP Human Development Report (http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/AFG). The statistics are definitely unsatisfactory, but these numbers show improvement since the Taliban rule toppled down. 

Nevertheless, these gains for women have been distributed disproportionately with more opportunities for women in urban settings. For rural women, representing 76% of the country’s female population, actual life has not changed much from the Taliban era (Allen & Felbab-Brown, 2020). Usually, families allow their girls to have primary or secondary education and then proceeds with arranged marriages. This shows why mean years of schooling for females is so low – it is only 1.9 years for female, while it is 6.0 years for male. Moreover, Taliban in rural areas now allow young girls to attend school, at least, but on the condition of a censored education (Allen & Felbab-Brown, 2020) – a reason why there is a significant boost in primary completion rate, which was 85.6% in 2018.

Afghanistan is still one of the world’s five most dangerous countries for women regarding discrimination, health and non-sexual violence. Gender inequality in Afghanistan was already deeply rooted in their cultural and religious beliefs, and the Taliban regulations heightened it. Society’s religious and cultural beliefs make men believe oppression against women is legitimate; the worst part is that women have voluntarily surrendered to the oppression because it is so ingrained within their culture (IvyPanda, 2020). A recent study by UN Women and partners showed that 85% of Afghan men think women should not be allowed to work outside of their home after marriage. This statistics is alarming as it reflects the mentality of society towards women. A country with a cultural setting where women do not even have fundamental human rights can be hard to deal with.

Is There a Relation Between Gender Inequality and Country Development?

Many studies have shown that the disappointing rates of social indicators representing the extreme gender inequality of a country are often positively correlated to a country’s low economic indicators. Although much macro-level evidence has not been found to prove this, lack of evidence does not mean there is no existence of this correlation. For example, a study reveals a positive correlation between the growth of per-capita income and the level of female secondary school attainment (Dollar & Gatti, 1999, as cited in Bandiera & Natraj, 2013). Moreover, a study by Klasen (1999, 2002) finds that both the female-male ratio and the growth rate of this ratio for completed years of schooling are positively correlated with economic growth (as cited in Bandiera & Natraj, 2013). Education is a sector that is alarmingly undermined in Afghanistan alongside severe inequality between male and female educational attainment. These studies prove how ignoring the weapon of education contributes to low human and country development. An increase in women’s social capital would also raise women’s economic and political participation in an economy, leading to a further positive effect on economic growth.

Social Innovation As a Root Level Solution

Economic growth through gender equality is a long-run goal. The more developed a country is, the greater the availability of institutions that will favour gender equality. To break the spell of this curse of this deeply-rooted oppression, the civil society group must urge more work at a grassroots level to drive forward gender equality and, most importantly, gain more female educational attainment. Women empowerment in rural settings needs to act as social innovation, and building community organizations to enhance connections and solidarity among women should be a priority. Providing women living in poverty with tools to take collective action through community-level organizations must be practised. 

Conclusion

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is a book that provides a vivid portrayal of a country devastated by war and disturbing discrimination of women. A quote from it says, “I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.” 

As mentioned before, when half the population’s potential and rights are not realized, it is impractical to think about country development. Along with inadequate governance and terrorism, gender inequality has played a significant role in dwindling economic growth. Poverty is like cancer that damages the third-world countries where poverty and gender inequality act like brothers from another mother. This cycle can only be broken by giving equal access to education and better job opportunities to both men and women.

This article was originally written as an assignment for the class Introduction to Development Studies, under professor Yumiko Yamamoto.

References

Afghanistan: Have things improved since the Taliban? (2021, April 23), BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/56779160

Allen, J. R., & Felbab-Brown, V. (2020). The fate of women’s rights in Afghanistan (Report No. W911-NF-17-1-0569). 19A: The Brookings Gender Equality Series. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/essay/the-fate-of-womens-rights-in-afghanistan/

Bandiera, O., & Natraj, A. (2013). Does Gender Inequality Hinder Development and Economic Growth? Evidence and Policy Implications. Policy Research Working Paper; No. 6369. World Bank, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/13170/wps6369.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

IvyPanda. (2020, April 9). Gender Inequality in Afghanistan. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-inequality-in-afghanistan/

Hosseini, K. (2007). A thousand splendid suns. New York: Riverhead Books.

Phillalamarri, A. (2017, June 30). Why Is Afghanistan the ‘Graveyard of Empires’? The Diplomat. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/why-is-afghanistan-the-graveyard-of-empires/

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