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Differential treatment accorded to individuals due to their gender is called gender inequality. Gender inequality is characterized by men’s dominance over women. Men look at women as inferior and less valuable beings because of their sexual disposition. Gender inequality encompasses various dimensions, diverse and it is widespread all over the world. However, Asia is the most affected continent. Gender inequality can be classified into different classes.
To begin with, there is economic gender inequality which is demonstrated by women contributing less than men in the formal work sector; thereby, women are more likely to live in poverty. Secondly, there is political gender inequality, which entails low representation of women in elected offices, political and corporate appointments.
Thirdly, there is social gender inequality, which is demonstrated by women being the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, inequalities in education attainment, lack of freedom to marry and divorce, and unequal access to health care.
Lastly, demographic gender inequality is evident in cases where women are never given the chance to be born or live because of feticide and infanticide; hence, men outnumber women by large numbers (Lorber 2010:4). This research paper focuses on gender inequality in Afghanistan, where women have faced all forms of inequalities for a long time as a result of the country’s beliefs and norms.
Discussion. Historical overview
Gender inequality in Afghanistan stems from cultural beliefs, and it was worsened by the Taliban regime. Afghanistan women are oppressed, discriminated and marginalized beings whose rights have been violated for a long time. The biggest challenge in Afghanistan’s gender inequality is that it is two-sided; the society’s social and cultural beliefs make men believe oppression against women is justified. But, women have willingly given in to the oppression because of its deep entrenchment within their culture.
Most of Afghanistan’s citizens follow their informal customary laws to promote family values and community cohesion until now. Traditionally, gender distinguished the different roles of men and women, where men took the governing role in the community while women were seen as men’s property, bringing about gender segregation. Although customary laws violated women’s rights under international standards, councils called Jirgas attempted to uphold them and bring about community cohesion but without much success.
For instance, women were given out as compensation for offenses committed, equating them to objects that could be easily used and disposed. Also, women were forced into marriages through kidnapping, and if they were suspected of being adulterous. Rape cases were rarely investigated and penalized.
In addition, women who had lost their virginity were regarded as outcasts, and they were looked down upon. This term justice was incomprehensible to these women because such incidences were hidden by the communities and most of them were never reported (Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit 2013: 38).
Taliban regime: This regime was salient in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. During this regime, women who had young children were restricted from working and the rest were not allowed to run their businesses or even appear in public places. They were allowed to work in hospitals, but they could only attend to female patients.
School girls in rural areas greatly suffered the attacks of the Taliban. As a result, girl’s education was prohibited. Severe punishments including public “beatings, threats and imprisonment” were imposed on women who did not abide by the Taliban rules (AREU 2013: 40).
Post-Taliban regime: After the fall of the Taliban, a new constitution was formed and it lifted most of the restrictions imposed on women. The women tried to get back their jobs in the civil service but with little success due to limited access to the labor market and lack of professional skills to carry out their duties.
During this period, the Afghanistan government was unstable and it could not provide security to the public. As a result, there was an escalated use of customary laws; thereby, continued gender inequalities. To date, gender inequality in Afghanistan is still a critical issue and the factors outlined below have contributed to current gender inequality according to Morgan (2008).
- Low level of protection from the family where women are exposed to early and arranged marriages.
- The Afghanistan Constitution and Islamic Sharia Law allow polygamy, hold fathers as natural guardians of their children, and dictates women to inherit smaller shares compared to men.
- Violence against women is practiced, tolerated and the abusers are rarely prosecuted because the authorities rarely investigate such crimes.
- Rape cases are rarely reported to the authorities for fear of being looked down upon (Morgan 2008:2).
- Women must receive permission from their husbands whenever they want to work.
- Rapists have the freedom to settle rape cases through monetary compensation to the offended family.
- When women fail to give in to their husbands’ sexual demands, their husbands have the right to deprive them of food.
Only a small fraction of Afghanistan women speak in public against women inequality and violence. Kabul city is the only place in the country where the situation for women is better (AREU 2013: 35). Afghanistan is formulating and applying several strategies to eradicate gender inequality by enriching equality in the constitution. Women access to public services was improved after the Taliban regime.
A new constitution approved in 2004 gave equal rights to all citizens and established the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) to monitor and protect these rights (Morgan 2008:3). This new constitution gave women equal access to health care and legal guarantees for political participation.
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In addition, women were accorded an equal right to vote. Women have been allowed to participate in town leadership and in rule-of-law institutions, which were initially dominated by men. The legal system has been reformed and now, it protects women against social injustices and ensures that their access to formal justice is well documented.
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was ratified by the new constitution. The main purpose of this convention was to show commitment to the rights of women in public, political, social and cultural sectors, especially in forced and underage marriages and use of women as compensation for disputes. The CEDAW is independent of Afghanistan’s customary laws, and it proposes that all marriages should be exercised by willing parties, who have already given their consent.
Women legal protections have been enhanced, and for the first time, the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law criminalized rape and the customs, traditions and practices which bring about gender inequality (ICG 2013:10). Women have been enlightened on their rights and the EVAW law.
There is also the provision that victims of violence should seek help in safe houses ran by ministries handling women’s affairs or by Afghan NGOs. The government has allocated aid targeted for female beneficiaries, women’s rights NGOs, women health care, education and initiatives aimed at helping victims of gender inequality (AREU 2013: 27).
Education sector in Afghanistan is facing many challenges including lack of female teachers in schools, attacks on girls, lack of transport, family commitments, and practice of oppressive customary laws. Despite these challenges, many girls have enrolled in both primary and secondary schools as a result of provision of funds for schools and the allowance to conduct schools at home. Amazingly, a few girls have enrolled in colleges where they graduate with skills necessary to enable them to work in the public sector.
Despite the fact that The Afghanistan constitution is new and helps to restore order, it does not stop all the injustices done to women in their daily lives. In addition, certain clauses in the constitution affect the administration of justice to women, for example, a clause in article 33 states that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” (Morgan 2008:3).
Despite the achievements discussed above, Afghanistan women are still facing challenges such as limited mobility, limited access to health, economic and educational opportunities, and limited public life participation and decision making (Morgan 2008:2).
Despite the government’s efforts to reduce inequality, gender equality is yet to reflect on Afghanistan’s women’s daily lives. Several challenges, including insecurity, opposition within communities and from religious leaders, lack of female staff in the security sector and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and violence to the prominent women are contributing negatively to the attainment of the set goals (AREU 2013: 35).
To date, some violence cases go unreported due to norms and beliefs of customary laws, which are still upheld in some places, in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the jirgas and the shuras are still in action (Morgan 2008:2).
Afghanistanian beliefs, taboos and norms have made Afghanistanian women the most vulnerable to gender inequality in the world since time in history through the Taliban regime to the current state. The position of women in the labor market is weak with women owning only 5% of all the businesses in Afghanistan.
Most women in the rural areas participate in home activities such as carpet weaving, sewing, tailoring and farm duties due to their limited mobility (Morgan 2008:2). Afghanistan has a low female to male literacy ratio of 0.4 compared to that of neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran whose female to male literacy ratios are 0.6 and 0.8 respectively (Morgan 2008:2).
Ratification of the new constitution in 2004 improved women’s rights and acted as a platform to fight against injustices in court. As a result, women have become more empowered and knowledgeable of their rights with the help of the new constitution, international forces and communities.
Women’s participation in the economic, political, education and social sector have improved over the last years after the Taliban fell. Although the process of implementing the new constitution is slow, many organizations have been formed to help fight these inequalities. The new organizations formed are yielding positive results with many recommendations being given to the government and international bodies on how to eradicate gender inequality and promote gender equity in Afghanistan.
Men believed that they were superior to women and they regarded women as their properties; thereby, oppressing and treating women as servants. On the other hand, women believed in men’s ideas. Women could not do anything contrary to the approval of their men, and this submission accelerated gender inequality, which was later aggrieved by the Taliban.
Customary laws practiced back then supported all the injustices on women, and for a long time, women in Afghanistan were exposed to economic, political, social and demographic gender inequalities.
Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU). 2013. Women’s Rights, Gender Equality, and Transition: Securing gains, moving forward (Issue paper 2013). Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit. Web.
Lorber, Judith. 2010. Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics. New York Oxford: Oxford university press.
Morgan, Clara. 2008. “Afghanistan: The Status of Women.” Parliamentary Information and Research Service Publication. Web.