Today’s Afghan women bear the huge and heavy burden of four decades war and conflicts. Early at the beginning of the twentieth century, Afghan women, as a result of the first constitutional movement under the leadership of King Amanullah, Khan succeeded in gaining some of their human rights and freedoms. King Amanullah Khan’s democratic plans included the elimination of hijab of women, access to education and active participation of women in the social, economic, political and cultural processes in the society. But unfortunately, after the fall of Soviet-backed governments of Kabul and their subsequent regimes – Mujahidin and Taliban, all those values were buried soon.
The First Steps for Afghan Women Liberation
In late 1927, King Amanullah Khan and his wife, Queen Soraya Tarzi, visited Europe. On this trip, they were honored and feted. This was an era when other Muslim nations, like Turkey and Egypt, were also on the path to modernization. Upon returning from his tour to Europe, King Amanullah Khan let his wife appear without a veil in public. He also prepared a progressive and democratic plan for modernizing his country. One of the key elements of this plan was the elimination of hijab of women, access to education and active participation of women in the social, economic, political and cultural processes in the society. However, the time was not right, and his plan was more progressive than the context of Afghanistan of 1928. Soon after the declaration of his reformist move, religious and traditional local elders revolted against his modernization program. This demonstration effectuated into a tribal rebellion and forced King Amanullah Khan to abdicate. As a result, his reformist programs were defeated.
After the era of King Amanullah Khan, the kingdoms of Afghanistan slowly continued his reforms. But the era of socialist and communist governments in Afghanistan, which is especially important for women, seems to be the root of many political events in recent years. Because, although during this period, especially with regard to women, important advances have been made. But what happened during the Taliban era against women, can be an exact response to the previous governments’ policies regarding women issues. But it is argued that after the first bold step of King Amanullah Khan toward women liberation and giving them the basic human rights, various reforms have taken placed regarding the women issues in Afghanistan – such as the abolition of forced marriage practices, raising the maturity of girls up to 16 years of age, access to education, and women’s right to vote.
During the reformist period of Soviet-backed governments of Kabul, Afghanistan witnessed the massive immigration of those who did not want a forced revolution from top to down. Many families immigrated to Pakistan, Iran and other Islamic countries to escape from girls’ forced education because they considered it as a shame for themselves. Applying contingency and command policies, the Soviet-affiliated states faced with such resilience that in some cases obliged them to stop enforcing their reformist policies. For example, though co-education was compulsory to some extent, girls and boys were educated in separate schools.
We can argue that the Soviet-dependent regimes in Afghanistan wanted to impose their modernization projects through a group of government elites. It is estimated that out of a population of 17 million Afghans in this period, 85 percent were rural. The reformist programs were focused on large cities, while the villages were mostly governed by tribal practices. The central government was not able to compete with local sovereignty.
The reformist projects of the Leftist government in Afghanistan during the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan were largely limited to reforms that were enacted in three legislative enactments. These legislative enactments abolished girls’ sale by the peasants. Women’s freedom of marriage was also selected on the basis of these decrees. But these laws were met with severe traditionalist reactions.
To deal with the women issues, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan launched an organization called “Afghan Women’s Democratic Organization (AWDO)”. Its main activity was to fight with the illiteracy of women in cities and villages and women’s expulsion from home. As the literacy cadres of AWDO forced villagers, even with the use of physical violence, to satisfy the presence of girls in classes, the literacy program for community girls faced the most resistance by local villagers. Many of these literacy cadres were expelled from villages or killed by villagers. Since these projects were designed to bring a profound transformation in people’s lives in a short time, which was hard and challenging, they were faced with completely opposing reactions of the local communities.
Soviet Invasion; the beginning of Dark Era for Afghan Women
The Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan for a period of 10 years from 1979 to 1989 was followed by a massive civil war, which ultimately led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan at the beginning of 1989 due to the failure of the Russians to contain it. The most reactive to the reforms of the Leftist government of Kabul, especially in relation to women, was projected by the Islamist organization, gradually known as the “Mujahideen”. These groups were supported by a set of regional states and Western powers, each of whom did not tolerate leftist rule in an Islamic country for a variety of political reasons, including fear of Soviet influence.
The period of Soviet military presence in Afghanistan brought about a period of freedom for women in the context of Soviet patriarchal policies, and a period of relative liberties in which a small percentage of Afghan women benefited from it. But this period led not only to the widespread conflict between women in the country but also to the rise and mobilization of traditionalist responses. The consequences of this invasion were painful and bitter for all Afghans and particularly for women.
With the fall of Najibullah’s government, the second phase of the internal wars began from 1992 to 1998. This time the war was between a set of Afghanistan’s political factions that ended only after the victory of the Taliban and the overthrow of most of Afghanistan’s soil. The Taliban came to power, many of whom were former members of the Mojahedin (Iacopino, 1998).
While many in the West and Islamic countries favored the Mojahedin, the situation of Afghan women was forgotten during this period. In the first stages of the war during the confrontation between the mujahideen and the Soviet forces, many women were denied access to education, classrooms were closed, and women’s organizations were shut down and some of their activists were killed, including Mina, who founded the Women’s Revolutionary Association of Afghanistan in 1977.
The emergence of extremist Islamic movements in the post-communist era, as well as the rise of the Taliban government, can be attributed largely to the policies applied during the occupation of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Indeed, much of the violence against women was in response to intimidation and threats that were introduced during the period of leftist rule. Somehow, Afghanistan experienced a very difficult period in the late 20th century. However, the experience of the Mujahideen and Taliban era in comparison with the experience of the communist regime for women was a far worse experience.
The current military presence of the United States in Afghanistan, like the Soviet policy, allows the women to experience a period of relative calm and security. Though the current government of Afghanistan, as a weak state, is virtually incapable of supporting women, there are not any legal restrictions for women’s political, social and economic activities as they experienced prior to King Amanullah Khan’s regime, Mujahedin and Taliban’s era.
Afghan Women and 2004 Constitutional Law of Afghanistan
The new constitution of Afghanistan, formulated in the last half and a decade, has recognized women’s rights in a fundamental and indelible way. As per the current Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, men and women have equal human rights and human dignity. Compared to the past constitutional laws, the current constitution law addresses the grounds for the provision of women’s citizenship rights at the level of men. It is said that the current constitutional law of Afghanistan is the best laws in the region. Article 33 states that “All the citizens of Afghanistan have the right to choose and be elected …” (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004, p. 10). And Article four holds that national sovereignty in Afghanistan belongs to the nation directly or through its agents, and the people of Afghanistan are all those who have the nationality of Afghanistan (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004).
In Article 22 of Afghanistan’s Constitution Law, the right to equality and gender and humanity are reflected in clearly and emphatically that any discrimination and privilege is prohibited between the citizens of Afghanistan. The citizens of Afghanistan, including men and women, are equated with the law with equal rights and obligations. Women as the fabric of families are protected by the Constitutional Law of Afghanistan amended in 2004.
Article 58 of Afghanistan’s Constitutional Law articulates that the government takes the necessary measures to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of the family, especially the child and the mother. The government should eliminate any kinds of customs that are against women’s dignity and also contrary to the holy religion of Islam (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004).
Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitutional Law has a special focus on women’s education. As per article 44, the government is required to plan and implement effective programs to provide education for women. Moreover, as per Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitutional Law, women can be nominated and elected at the highest political-managerial level of the country, presidential. It clearly echoes that there is no legal ceiling against the promotion of women to high positions.
Despite taking substantial strides regarding women’s promotion, liberation, and rights by the kingdoms and governments of Afghanistan from King Amanullah Khan to the current president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, still, Afghan women face myriad challenges. For example, confronting with traditional patriarchal structures. And most importantly, struggling with the challenges on the path to tradition and modernity. So, to pave the way for Afghan women so that they can participate in the political, social, cultural, educational, and economic spheres equally with their male counterparts, this paper suggests that the government of Afghanistan and other related national and international organizations should take the following measures.
Recommendations for Policy Implications
First, a significant issue in political and social participation is political socialization. Political socialization is a continuous learning process in which individuals through acquainting themselves with the political system, learn from their rights and roles in society through information and experiences. This process helps women adapt to the accepted forms of organized social life, and teaches them the talents, essential social desires, and in particular the social roles that they must play in society. Ultimately, it helps women attend various social fields. So, the government of Afghanistan as the responsible political entity should pave the way for Afghan women to experience political socialization in the society.
Second, social education is the most important element of political and social participation and, ultimately, the development of a community. And, the most important element in the development of a community is the people of that society – men and women, who must have cultural and political awareness and knowledge. Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist argues that Education is a process in which a woman learns through practices that are functional in a community. So, the government of Afghanistan and other responsible institutions must carry out the necessary social education through K-12 education and higher education. Doing so, Afghan women learn the pre-requisites for social and political activities in their childhood and adolescence.
Third, the communities, government, and other social organizations should have a rational and reasonable approach toward the character of girls and women, and let them taste the importance of ownership, thought and creativity. If women are provided with opportunities to explore their talents, enhance their self-confidence, think about their own fate, the entire society will benefit from this process. Adapting a non-biased and non- patriarchal approach toward women by the society and men will provide better opportunities for women’s political and social participation in the society.
Last but not the least, creating suitable opportunities for female participation in various scientific and practical scenes, such as universities, research centers, factories and other social activities can provide the motivation for increasing women’s political and social participation. Hence, we can conclude that increasing the political and social participation of Afghan women means increasing their contribution to the development of society.