Afghanistan and Women’s Rights: A History
In the early 20th century, Afghanistan might have been described as one of the most progressive countries in Central Asia in terms of women’s rights. Afghan women first became eligible to vote in 1919 – a year before the United States enshrined a woman’s right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Afghan women were able to attend school, hold jobs, and participate in public life after a series of progressive reforms introduced by King Amanullah Khan, who ruled the country from 1919 to 1929.
Amanullah’s wife, Soraya Tarzi, was also a strong advocate for women’s rights; she founded the first women’s magazine in Afghanistan and worked to improve the lives of women in the country. However, the reforms of Amanullah Khan and Soraya Tarzi were met with resistance from many traditional Afghans. In 1929, a rebellion broke out against Khan, and he was forced to abdicate. He and Soraya fled to Italy, where they lived in exile until their deaths.
The new government reversed many of Amanullah’s reforms, including the abolition of purdah (the practice of female seclusion prevalent among some Muslim and Hindu communities) and the right of women to vote and hold office. Women were once again forced to stay in seclusion and were denied access to education, employment, and social opportunity. Rights and progress for women and girls in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and subsequent rise of various Mujahideen groups that plunged the country into economic chaos and civil war.
The Education of Women and Girls in Afghanistan
The Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996 and imposed harsh restrictions on women and girls, including banning them from attending school. The US-led invasion of 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks resulted in the adoption of some progressive reforms, and in the years following the invasion, the number of girls enrolled in school in the country stabilized at about 3.5 million. However, the Taliban again seized power in Afghanistan after US-led forces withdrew from the region in 2021, which destroyed much of the progress that had been made for women’s rights in the country. Secondary schools and universities are presently closed to women in Afghanistan, and girls and women currently pursuing education in Afghanistan do so at great risk to themselves and their families.
Join us as we discuss the increasingly dire situation for women and girls in Afghanistan, the pressures being applied by the international community, and the ways in which Afghan women are fighting back against the dissolution of their rights and freedoms.
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