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Women's Political Participation in Afghanistan

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

March 26th, 2021

Negative Influences on Women’s Political Participation within Afghanistan

When we think about Afghanistan, many of our minds directly go to the aftermath and war with Afghanistan immediately after the incidents in September 2001. Because of this, it is rarely forgotten that Afghanistan itself is in a state of insurgency and resistance against its government. It is also rare that even when we do talk about the Taliban or Afghani people, we hear about women within these political disputes. While the US is not a great example for gender-related political diversity, averaging at about 22% between all levels (compared to a 51% population rate); Afghanistan’s shockingly low, 12% (compared to a 49% population rate) just barely tells the full story[1]. It is easy to categorize the reason as womens’ “disinterest” in politics, yet in reality, this “disinterest” truly stems from the internalized reinforcement of patriarchal laws and social structures. From becoming one of the most diverse governments in the region to halting women’s political participation completely, Afghani women are in crisis due to being systemically silenced. When it comes to diversity, specifically gendered diversity, you will see that it is not simply enough to include women in decisions, but regardless of the physical diversity in the room, the woman’s perspective should always be taken into consideration when speaking on issues that affect them.

The Effect of Patriarchy on Legal Systems

Unfortunately, because women’s participation is low within many political structures, the obstacles of said patriarchy and discrimination that these women face often go unnoticed or ignored. The journal by Dr. Meera and Dr. Yetka[2], walks us through the possible reasons that women are not becoming involved in this government system; they focus mainly on the cultural and historical norms that have been developed over generations that strategically deter women’s political participation.

The biggest issue highlighted, is the lack of education not only for these women but systematically and for entire generations of young girls and women. Afghanistan is a very historically patriarchal country, and many of the political and “larger” roles within this society,\ are socialized as “manly” or a man’s job. A woman’s primary role was to care for the family, and those who were cast out either did not have children or had other priorities other than children, like a job or community involvement. This is many times assumed and labeled to be an Islamic belief, and while religious system, similarly to Christianity, don’t help to stop the perpetuation of this oppression, the philosophies of Islam are not based in patriarchy and women’s oppression. To understand this characterization better, the patriarchy within Islam is very similar to the patriarchy that exists within other religions. Many religions are built off of the same philosophies, because the social climate when these texts were written, misogyny was accepted and normalized. Therefore, these texts are supposed to be applied to the current social contexts. In conclusion, the religion of Islam and the religious texts associated with it do expressed themes of patriarchy and women’s subordination, but not any more than many other religions.

This form of oppression has been one perpetuated by past governments and social structures and utilized Islamic faith to uphold these structures. The issue, however, is that when you instill these hierarchies of gender within your children’s upbringing, academics, and daily life, it will be much harder to grow up to question the standards of society; yet if women were taught that they are valuable for more than children and that they can be just as impactful as men, I believe that would increase women’s political participation graciously. This is especially true when you connect a child(or anyone’s) belief system with the oppression they experience, because it gives them a reason not to question it.

Whenever conflicts or wars happen, women are often either forgotten about or brutally affected by the outcome. This is because there is often little to no one within the Afghani government to provide the perspective of women. The unique factors that are placed on these women, put them at a more disadvantaged place than men in the society. Therefore these women are not only dealing with the burden of being a woman within a patriarchal society but the discrimination that comes with that, which is another huge factor in why they do not have the same resources as men to participate in politics. This is just another way we see underlying social structures affect the legal decisions that are made. Unless women are 1) physically in the rooms where decisions are being made, or 2)encouraged to share their experiences as women within this country; The laws that impact women at a greater rate will continue to exacerbate.

The History of Women in Election Processes

Throughout the entire 20th century within Afghanistan, women had been fighting for the right to be involved politically, and have their voices heard, and up until the tail end, this movement was successful. This included the establishment of the Organization for Women’s Protection, as well as governmental policies honoring women’s choice to be covered or uncovered. This very quickly changes with the implementation of new governments, and the push back by many rural communities who rejected chane. Before the insurgency of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s government was replaced with newer, more liberal thinking politicians with plans of transferring to a democratic country. There were policies created in order to promote higher education and integration into the workforce for women, they also promote religious freedom and diversity. During The 2010 Afghan Parliamentary “Wolesi Jirga” Elections, over 400 women ran for only 249 parliament seats, making history not only in Afghanistan but the entire South Asian region. Yet, this election incited violence among the harsh opposition of the Taliban to democracy and women’s empowerment; leading to the murder of at least 14 people on election day. The Taliban, at first, was met with hope from the citizens, because after years of war and fighting the group promised peace; The government was not equipped to handle the insurgency of the Taliban, and they soon took over; enforcing the suppression of women’s rights and voices in the absence of a man.[3] The Taliban cut back on all the progressive policies that allowed women the right to be educated and get a job, as well as forcing them to be fully covered when outside, and limiting their social lives. This was instilled with threats, public executions, assaults, and more in order for the Taliban to have complete control over these women. [4] This insurgency lasted until the 1999 War on Afghanistan, waged by the US, which has continued even today. This war includes the 2001 attacks on the twin towers, as well as the 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden. For the past 22 years, the US, Afghani Government, and Insurgent Groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda have been going back on forth debating what is best for the country of Afghanistan. While the Taliban and other groups claim that they want to restore peace within their country, The US government is not satisfied that “peace” will not look like oppression under their reign. Even now, there is political debate about whether or not the decision to retract US troops from Afghanistan is a good idea or not. This war has been categorized as the “longest war in US history” and many just want it to end. From time to time we see the mention of the war’s effect on women, or women’s status in Afghanistan, but we very rarely see these women in the decision making processes. Especially the women who are most heavily impacted by these issues; they are often left out and spoken over.

The Dark Figure of Discrimination

When we look at the pain inflicted on Afghani women during the Taliban insurgency, we see the psychological and physical toll that this takes on women. There’s many issues and loopholes we can point out within their laws in order to explain the oppression of these women, but the entire picture can only be understood, when looking at the nonlegal social restrictions women must understand to survive. Specifically when it comes to the reinforcement of social standards that harm women, and the use and manipulation of the shared religion to perpetuate those standards. For more depth, Allen and Brown explained the “During the 1990s, the Taliban not only brutally imposed social restrictions on women such as mandatory burqa coverings, but, more fundamentally and deleteriously, restricted their access to health care, education, and jobs. It prohibited women from appearing in public spaces without a male chaperon, de facto sentencing widows and their children to starvation.[5]” These practices instill a new level in fear in these women not only for themselves, but for threats toward their children. Women must fall into the Taliban’s social standards simply in order to survive within their communities.

Another part of the problem, as mentioned earlier is that groups like the Taliban and formerly the Mujahideen utilize specific religious texts in order to psychologically manipulate not only the women to do what they say, but the men within this society to uphold their beliefs.[6] Because many of these people are loyal and committed to their religion, they internalize the belief that to be independent and have access to equal opportunity is wrong; and this is supported by the texts that are taken from the Quran without context, must like we see with Christianity within the US. Therefore, they are portrayed and “bad Muslims” or not committed if they chose to stand up for discrimination against those using religious texts. Another problem that builds off the use of religious jargon to instill fear, is the earlier mentioned aspect of women’s lack of access to education. If you are being told from birth to adulthood, that the religious text you follow portrays you as subordinate to others, then it is inherently something women will believe. Especially if their parents of close family members are telling them these messages, without the educational background to question these ideals and create your own interpretation of religion, women are instilled with messages of misogyny without understanding that it exists.

Proposed Solutions and Results

The proposed solutions I have gathered include first, the unification of Afghani women. We have seen many times throughout history, that the only way systems begin to change and governments begin to adapt, is if a large enough portion of the country demands reform. Throughout Afghan history, we have seen a pattern of women claiming their rights and then being shut down and systemically separated. Not only does it require physical collaboration in order to change the status of Afghani women involved in politics, but it required a mindset derived from unity. Many laws that oppress women, also effectively encourage women to oppress and police each other; but through unification and support from women around the country, Afghan women can have the support system to create change. This also includes unity and a strong effort on the behalf of men and to ensure that they are not continuing cycles of oppression, or at least identifying those that want to abolish this practice. Another proposed solution could be to desocialize these men to support patriarchal structures, mainly because if they are benefitting heavily, there are few that would support women and risk their privilege

There have been several organizations with this specific goal established, including providing monetary support, teaching women how to advocate and protest safely, etc. The problem is that despite the existence of these programs and community resources, only a small portion of women are actually represented or politically active. The largest part of this solution is for women in Afghani to be economically independent. Because women cannot rely on their government or community to support them, there needs to be a movement of economic freedom for women focusing on economic freedom with the purpose of making change within the legal system. In order to ensure that women have a say in their role in politics, the idea of majority women politicians must be possible, and even though the quote introduced by the Transitional Administration of 68 of the Wolesi Jirga must be female, the fear that is instilled by the government into women needs to be counteracted with support both economically and socially.

When we assess the feasibility of a two step process such as the one I proposed, the main concern becomes access to technology and tools of communication. Many of the miscommunication that exists and the lack of unity relates to the idea that women are not physically able to connect with each other. This is due to the impositions placed upon them from the Taliban, and their lack of outer household communication. When we look at some of the highest earning jobs such as bank employee’s or even law enforcement, we see an increase in Afghanistan’s use of technology, and an emphasized importance of technological advances. The use of technology is specifically focused on mobile banking and E Governance, but more important it connects Afghan citizens to the rest of the world. And even further, Technology has given Afghan women a chance to create their own economic stability, and social network, the solutions to solving the issue of political participation. One story of an Afghan woman who used technology to improve their social stature: “For instance, with the online hemisphere hitting homes, technology has come to provide women, like Roya Mahboob, opportunities to educate themselves and even open new businesses.[7]” There are plenty of examples of women using technology to create change, and to understand it better, more than 80% of women in Afghanistan have access to mobile phones; and of this more than half of those women bought the phone independently.[8] In essence, if Afghan women would create a network of support through utilizing technology to have their voices heard, it would be one of the strongest techniques of both unity and economic independence.

[1] CSO, unpublished data collected for Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook 2007. [2] MeeraM., & YektaK. (2021). The Challenges to Political Participation of Women in Afghanistan. Asian Studies, 9(1), 65-91. [3] Banerjee, A. (2017). Violence and female inclusion: Elections and female political participation in Afghanistan (Order No. 10269885). Retrieved from [4] Desk, N. (2011, May 04). A historical timeline of Afghanistan. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from [5] Allen, J., & Felbab-Brown, V. (2021, March 04). The fate of women's rights in Afghanistan. Retrieved March 26, 2021, from [6]Maley, William, ed. Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban. Washington Square, NY: New York University Press, 1998, 152 [7] Afghan women's access to mobile Technology Video HD. (2013, May 23). Retrieved April 22, 2021, from [8] Ibid.

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