The era between 2001 and 2021 saw the formation of the Hamid Karzai government with the help of USA and NATO. The new Constitution was adopted in Afghanistan in 2004 whereby 27 per cent of the seats in the House of People were reserved for women. Despite this, even in 2012, the Ulema Council decided that Afghan women should not move in public without a Mehram, and women were completely debarred from public interactions with male outsiders.
Law has permitted Afghan women to acquire driving licenses and to selectively participate in international conferences. Women could include their names in the children’s birth certificates and were allowed to retain their individual identity cards.
In December, 2018, Roya Rahim was appointed as the Afghan ambassador to USA. In September 2020, Afghans earned a seat in the UN Commission on Status of Women. More and more women started joining the Afghan security force. Latifa Navizada was appointed as a pilot of a military helicopter in the country.
The 21.8 per cent participation in the labour force by women is made up by their engagement as government servants, teachers, doctors, journalists, artists, and others. There is a predominance of women doctors in Afghanistan, as women in Afghanistan can be treated only by women doctors and not by male apothecaries. Most women in Afghanistan, however, would earn their income by embroidery and tailoring activities mostly conducted in their residence.
Despite these pockets of development, however, the rural communities, largely dominated by the orthodox factions, are strictly against women’s rights and liberty and any aspirations in the directions of women’s rights are dealt with severely and with atrocity.
We find vivid descriptions of such orthodoxy and prejudice in “A thousand splendid suns” by Khaled Hasemi, a much acclaimed American Afghan author. Closer to home, Susmita Bandyopadhyay, who had married an Afghan, recorded her experience in “Kabuliwallahar Bangali Bou” which was later made into a movie ‘Escape from Taliban’.
A UN report of 2013 states that there has been a 20 per cent increase in violence against women despite the enactment of a 2009 law on “Elimination of violence against women”. WHO reports that 90 per cent of women had suffered violence in some form or the other in Afghanistan.
In August 2021, the Taliban occupied Kabul. The Afghan President left the country. The Afghan forces did not resist the Taliban leaving millions of Afghan natives vulnerable to an uncertain regime of fear and atrocities. Thousand tried to flee the country, through a tumultuous evacuation process but many were left behind staring at an uncertain future.
The Taliban has declared that women’s rights will be guided according to the Shariah laws. It remains to be seen what liberties and rights would be granted under such mandate.
Michelle Bachelet, the Chief of UN Human Rights aptly sums up the present condition of Afghan women in her statement that the Taliban treatment of women and girls would be a “fundamental red line”.
In the meanwhile, disturbing news comes in the form of a fatwa on lady doctors, on the future of co-education and on imposition of penalties on lady artists, singer, journalists, and students. The only light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that Afghan women have now taken to the streets to claim protection of their rights and consolidation of the rights they had gained in the last 20 years. Afghan women have decided to raise their voice to defend their country.
The present situation in Afghanistan is one of uncertainty, revolt and bloodshed. The Taliban is attempting to form a government whose stability is threatened by the insurgence of the Islamic state of Khorasan and resistance from North Western Part of Afghanistan, particularly, the Pancshil Province.
Further challenges are posed by the Mujahidden in the North, ex Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum in the Balkh, Ismael Khan, Ex minister in the Karzai government from Herat, hardline jihadist Abdul Rab Sayyat from Paghman, Agha Sherzai, the ex-governor of Nangarhar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from west Afghanistan, Ahmad Massoud from Panjshir and Hazara leaders Ghani Alipoor in East Afghanistan and Karim Khalili from East Afghanistan.
The world would therefore wait for the dust to settle before a clear picture emerges of the future geopolitics of Afghanistan and its acceptability to the international community.
The economics of Afghanistan also pose a challenge. The country is mineral rich, with abundance of copper, cobalt, coal and iron ore, Afghanistan also reports the presence of lithium, largely used in batteries for mobile devices and electric cars.
Any investment by the potential investor community will, however, be largely reliant on the emergence of a conducive environment.
The economy is expected to shrink by 9.7 per cent in 2021-22 and by 5.2 per cent during the next financial year. While the gross domestic product of Afghanistan is $190 billion, the balance of payments deficit is grave wherein imports worth $6 billion have far surpassed $1 billion of legal exports. This is a cause of continuing concern.
Illicit opium exports amount to $2 billion per annum. Afghanistan is heavily dependent on foreign aid; 80 per cent of public expenditure is funded by grants, supplemented with loans from the World Bank and SDR granted by the IMF. News is coming in about the USA freezing its assets held in the banks of Afghanistan.
The IMF has withdrawn its SDR of $400 million. The World Bank’s position too remains nebulous. There has also been a 20 per cent decline in donor grants to this country. The consequences are likely to be tragic, hitting the poor people of Afghanistan very hard indeed.
About 47 per cent of the people in this country live below the one dollar a day poverty line. Reports are emerging on rising food shortages, rising inflation and a steep downfall of the Afghani, the local currency, against the US dollar.
There would also be effects on women’s employment.
In the past decades, as stated earlier, the proportion of female employment had risen to about 22 per cent. It is apprehended that under the new regime, such change may be reversed, damaging further economic prospects of women.
Hopefully, our Afghan sisters would not be deprived of their rights to life and liberty, their aspirations, their rights to dignity, to have good health, to be able to earn an income and to be able to bring up their children in a secure and benign atmosphere.
The entire world has watched with trepidation the status of final evacuation of foreign forces from Afghanistan, and witnesses with anguish the hopeless vulnerability of those who are left behind to stare into a bleak and uncertain future.
One would hope that Afghan women would continue to fight for the liberty they had acquired in the past in their access to education and in their right to work. With such mounting assertions, and with the support of international organizations such as the United Nations, leadership in Afghanistan would hopefully rise like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes. Into such a country let the Afghans awake.