Afghanistan in Flux: Impact on Women's Rights?

Good economics is the foundation of good politics, says Fareed Zakaria on his GPS program on CNN. He draws from Paul Brinkley's latest book on Afghanistan, War Front to Store Front in which he explains how economics shapes politics: "In 2009, Afghanistan had a nominal GDP of $10 billion." 60% consisted of foreign aid, poppy cultivation and heroin production contributed 30% to the economy and 10%, or $1 billion was local and legitimate economic activity. Brinkley contrasts the figures against "U.S. military spending of $4 billion per month to protect a country with a real annual economic output of $1 billion." Read more

Given this stunning data on the Afghan economy, it makes no sense at all to preclude women -- half the population -- from entering the lackluster local economy. Nicholas Kristoff illustrated in his book Half the Sky how women can make substantive economic contributions to their families and their economy through employment or entrepreneurship.

As U.S. troops prepare to exit from Afghanistan, the economy is unraveling even further, political alliances are in motion -- and the future is anything but certain. What's particularly alarming is how the Afghan parliament is legislating on women's rights. In a nutshell, the plain facts and their potential impact on Afghan women are alarming: New York Times story on Taliban and Government Imperil Gains for Afghan Women, and women's advocates say:

  • Both the Taliban and the government could turn the clock back on hard won gains for women
  • The strongest advocates for women are the international forces and aid agencies
  • In parliament, the quota for women has been reduced from 25% to 20% and the bill is awaiting the president's signature
  • Proposed legislation would allow fathers to arrange child marriages, and grant guardianship rights over children, trumping mother's rights
  • Women activists are considered to have "low morals" and shelters are equated to "brothels."
  • Testimony laws would protect male abusers in the family

But here's the upside, which is a testament to the strength of the Afghan women's movement: Nader Nadery, Director of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, says: "Afghan women's groups have moved from being individual voices. They are now a very powerful collective voice, if not a full fledged movement, and it will be difficult for any politician to ignore them completely."

What's also significant is that today a third of the registered voters in Afghanistan are women. Ms. Sobhrang, a representative on the Human Rights Commission, called the gains made by women post Taliban in 2002 "fragile but reversible" and she goes on to say candidly: "We still haven't brought fundamental change to the lives of women in Afghanistan."

And finally, the UN estimates that $100 million in aid is allocated annually for women's issues. While progress is typically s-l-o-w on women's issues, the good news is that a woman, Col. Jamila Bayaz was appointed chief of District 1 headquarters in Kabul.

Invest in Muslim Women, is a non-profit organization which supports education, employment and empowerment of Muslim women. In Afghanistan, we work with Jamila Afghani who runs a non-profit, Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization (NECDO). We have just awarded her a grant to conduct a survey on Muslim women's needs for toilet facilities on bus stops at highway intersections. The survey is focused on understanding whether access to secure and segregated sanitation will encourage women to explore employment opportunities - leading to empowerment.

Khadijah's daughters is a blog by Shahnaz Chinoy Taplin, board president of Invest in Muslim Women, a non-profit project of the Global Fund for Women. Invest in Muslim Women focuses on the economic empowerment of Muslim women, justice and peace. The blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife and the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.