Current Situation in Afghanistan
Nearly 20 years have passed since the Taliban’s fall from power and despite much progress in restoring Afghan women’s and girls’ human rights, the security situation in Afghanistan continues to be fragile. The Taliban’s attack continues and at times intensified, leaving the citizens to live in fear of losing their lives. In some parts, especially where the Taliban has held power, Afghan citizens live without basic necessities, including sufficient food, access to education, clean water, electricity, roads and healthcare.
Since especially 2005 and now increasingly so in the last two years, deadly attacks on Afghan civilians, Afghan government security forces, relief workers, health workers, and teachers have been increasing. Women holding public offices, journalists, teachers, students, and health workers have been especially targeted. These attacks include acid attack against schoolgirls to deter them from schooling to continuing their brutal and inhumane public stoning and lashing of women. Despite the Taliban’s horrific attacks against civilians and the Afghan government forces and staff, the Afghan people, especially women and girls have continued to work towards a better and improved Afghanistan.
As of 2019, approximately 9 million children attend 16,000 schools. During the Taliban regime, only about one million boys were in school. On average, girls make up 39% of students in Afghanistan; girls are about 40% of elementary students and 35% of middle and high school students. There are 240 higher education institutions in Afghanistan, including 36 public colleges and universities, 122 private colleges and universities, and 80 two-year teacher training institutes. Women make up approximately 25% of students in public and private colleges and universities and 49% of graduates of teacher training institutes.
Over the last nearly 20 years, the literacy rate has nearly doubled for men and tripled for women. Today, the literacy rate stands at over 55% for men and more than 30% for women.
The health sector in Afghanistan received a great deal of needed attention in the post-Taliban era. Today, there are 531 public and private hospitals operating across the country. Over 1,000 health centers and 1,000 health sub-centers are open to people. There are more than 12,000 pharmacies. Currently 19% of the 8,744 doctors and 40% of the 19,743 nurses are women.
In the last 18 years over 4,000 midwives have been trained and are working to reduce maternal mortality and infant mortality rates, not only in cities but rural areas as well. Infant mortality rate has decreased from 95 per 1,000 live births to 53.2 per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy has increased from 56 years old to 65 for women and 62 for men.
Although Afghanistan still has one of the highest mortality rates in the world, the number of women receiving healthcare during birth has increased to 51%.
Women in the Constitution and Government
The Afghan Constitution, adopted in January 2004 includes an historic equal rights provision. The Constitution also requires the election of at least two women from each province to the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House/House of People); as a result, women comprise 25% of this parliamentary body by Constitution. One half of presidential appointments to the Meshrano Jirga (Senate/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.
There has been an increased representation of women in the Afghan government over the last 20 years. There are 400,439 government employees, of which 27% are women. In addition, 35% of the teachers in public schools are women, 12% of the judges are women, 10% of the attorneys are women, and of the 456 provincial council members, 96 are women, and women hold a third of the parliament, 27%. The president pledged to appoint four women as ministers, more than 10 serve as deputy ministers, and four serve as ambassadors. Approximately 4,800 women play an active role in the security sector (3,300 police officers and 1,500 in Defense).
Much work still needs to be done to ensure that Afghan women are included in critical policy making roles. Today, there are Afghan women experts in all areas and they demand to be equal partners in the continued rebuilding of their country.
Afghan women have also been a critical force in investing inside Afghanistan as well as creating thousands of jobs to their fellow citizens. Last year, the Afghanistan’s Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industries reported that 1,150 women entrepreneurs have invested $77 million in different businesses in Afghanistan, creating 77,000 jobs.
Since the fall of the Taliban, three parliamentary elections and four presidential elections have been held. Afghans have risked their lives to participate in the elections, both as candidates running for offices as well as citizens casting their votes. In the Provincial Councils, 20% of the seats are allocated to women. In all elections, women have run for offices and have been a third of the total Afghans who exercised their right to vote.
Of the 458 provincial council seats (20% of them are reserved for women), and depending on the size of the province’s population, 9-33 seats are reserved for women. Although 25% of the seats are reserved for women in the parliament, women are also freely elected. Currently, women hold 27% of the seats in parliament.
Women have equal rights under the current Constitution of Afghanistan. Since 2002, the Afghan government has ratified about 20 international human rights treaties and created the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), a national independent human rights organization protecting and promoting human rights, further guaranteeing the rights of women and all Afghans, especially minorities. The national government also includes an Afghan Ministry for Women’s Affairs that specifically works in promoting women’s status through different programs in the country. In 2009, EVAW (Elimination of Violence Against Women) was enforced by presidential order.
Media and Freedom of Speech
Under Taliban rule, televisions and radios were banned, music was prohibited, and phone services were not available. Existing television sets were destroyed by the Taliban. In the post-Taliban era, access to telecommunication services has flourished and grown exponentially. Over 170 radio stations and 68 TV channels operate across the country, and hundreds of newspapers and magazines are published. Television is now the main source of news and entertainment for Afghans, as more than 65% of households own a television set.
Millions of Afghans today are more connected than ever. About 90% of Afghan households own cell phones, and over 30% of people in urban areas and about 15% in rural areas have access to the internet. This access has allowed Afghans to connect with others around the world and become more engaged in socio-political discourses in Afghanistan.