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Population: 29.82 million (World Bank)
Literacy rate: 12% (women); 39% (men) (UN Women)
Maternal Mortality rate: 460 per 100,000 live births. Lifetime risk of maternal death = 1 in 32 women (UNICEF)
Life Expectancy: 62 years (women) (UN)
Current Situation in Afghanistan
Nearly eight years have passed since the Taliban's fall from power, and despite some progress in restoring Afghan women's and girls' human rights, the situation in Afghanistan continues to be grim. Most Afghan citizens live without basic necessities, including sufficient food, clean water, electricity, roads and healthcare.
Due to severely inadequate peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan, Taliban forces are continuing to make a comeback. Since especially 2005 and now increasingly so into 2009, deadly attacks on Afghan civilians, relief workers, teachers, and private contractors have been increasing. Women aid workers, journalists, teachers, students, and officeholders have been especially targeted by extremist elements. In 2008, Taliban insurgents were arrested in the case of an acid attack against schoolgirls in the southern city of Kandahar. In 2009, a young couple was executed by the Taliban after eloping, more than 150 Afghan schoolgirls were hospitalized in three suspected gas attacks on their schools, a woman politician and women’s rights activist was murdered outside her Kandahar home, and women protesters were pelted in Kabul while protesting a controversial Shia law that would have severely restricted women's rights by legalizing rape within marriage, among other provisions, if enacted.
Although Afghanistan ’s literacy rate for women and girls is only 12%, educational opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan remain scarce. Some 7 million children now attend school, and 2.5 million of them aregirls. While approximately 40% of the primary students are girls, in some areas of the country the percentage of girl students is as low as 3%, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. In addition, UNIFEM reported in November 2007 that at the secondary level, 1 girl for every 3-4 boys attends school. More than 1.2 million girls of primary school age are still not attending classes for a variety of reasons including the fact that many schools are too far away, there are inadequate facilities in the schools that do exist, many families hold the perception that education has no value, and safety concerns due to increasing attacks on girls’ schools.
Afghan women also continue to have the second highest maternal mortality rates in the world (UNIFEM), with teenaged girls suffering one of the highest death rates from pregnancy and childbirth complications. One woman dies every 29 minutes in childbirth (UNIFEM).
Nearly 50% of health care workers (over 15,000) are now women and a new Department of Women and Reproductive Health was formed within the Health Ministry in 2003.
Yet, "one woman dies every 29 minutes in childbirth" in Afghanistan. This is the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Only 14% of women have a skilled childbirth attendant and only 12% have pre-natal care. The average woman in Afghanistan has 7.4 children. Access to health care in the rural areas is extremely poor - life expectancy is only 44 years for both women and men. (UNIFEM, Nov. 2007 Fact Sheet)
Women in the Constitution and Government
The Afghan Constitution, adopted in January 2004 includes an historic equal rights provision. But the Constitution also states "No law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." This clause is open to the interpretation of the Afghan Supreme Court, whose first appointees were dominated by conservative religious men who, for exambanned women from singing on television. In 2006, President Karzai appointed several more moderate judges to the Court.
The Constitution also requires the election of at least two women from each province to the Wolesi Jirga (House of People); as a result, women comprise 25% of this parliamentary body. One half of presidential appointments to the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) also must be women. Because the president appoints one-third of the members of this body, this results in women holding 12.5% of the seats in the House of Elders. In 2008, women comprised 27% of the National Assembly (UNIFEM)
At the provincial (state) level, women hold 27% of the Provincial Council seats - 121 out of 420 seats in 2005 (UNIFEM).
Women are 26% of all civil servants (UNIFEM).
- 6% of the judges
- 6% of the prosecutors
- 6% of the attorneys
Although there are no women judges on the Supreme Court, the Family and Juvenile Courts are headed by women (UNIFEM, Nov. 2007 Fact Sheet).
However, much work still needs to be done to ensure that Afghan women are included in critical policy making roles. Although Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, named three women to his cabinet in January 2005, his appointments to the new 25 member cabinet in 2006 included only one woman, the Minister of Women's Affairs.
Photo by BBC News