Afghan Debates Hear Calls for Gender Equality

Some want positive discrimination to start reversing male domination of public life.

Afghan Debates Hear Calls for Gender Equality

Some want positive discrimination to start reversing male domination of public life.

Afghans discussed the struggle to improve women’s legal rights in debates held around the country this month.

Although speakers in Zabul, Nangarhar, Logar and Kandahar provinces agreed that gender equality had improved since the fall of the Taleban in 2001, they told their largely female audiences that much more needed to be done.

Sarina Faizi, a member of Kandahar’s provincial council in the south of the country, said women were yet to be treated on an equal footing with men, either in the workplace or in law.

“Female members of parliament should work in consultation with the ministry of women’s affairs to propose and pass new laws,” she said.

A legal expert, Ahmad Khales Haqmal, criticised Islamic scholars and parliamentarians for not doing enough on gender equality legislation and women’s rights.

Azizurrahman Rahmani, head of Kandahar’s department of women’s affairs, said it was hard to engage women in fighting for change.

“Most women in our society are unaware of their rights,” he said. “Their educational level is low, and public awareness programmes need to be run for them.”

However, the head of public outreach at Kandahar’s department of justice, Abdul Rahim Azimi, said his office had run workshops to educate people on exactly this issue.

“We have an office dealing with public awareness at the department of justice,” he said. “It works towards educating people about this topic with the aim of reducing levels of violence against women.”

In Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, head of women’s affairs Torpekai Shinwari said that 60 per cent of girls in parts of the province had no access to education, while 30 per cent had their schooling cut because of conservative traditions.

“The problems we face are the ongoing conflict, women being traded to resolve disputes, women being prevented from accessing education, and the failure to consult women on important issues,” she said.

Muhibullah Allahyar, the local head of youth affairs, added, “If men and women do not play an equal role in making laws, it’s obvious the legislation is going to be deficient.”

In Logar province, south of Kabul, Ghulam Zekerya, head of legal affairs at the justice department, said officials had tried to promote more inclusive policies.

“Recently, the ministries of women’s affairs and justice have decided to give women an active role in lawmaking. However, low levels of public awareness, as well the ongoing lack of security, means that most women remain oblivious of their rights,” he said.

In the southern Zabul province, the head of the women’s affairs department, Sediqa Jalali, called for a better gender balance in official appointments.

“The current government has not yet fulfilled the promises it made to women about guaranteeing their rights,” she said. “The government should ensure that women are appointed [as officials] in all provinces.”

Legal expert Abdul Wakil Zabuli added, “Although the public role of women has increased over the past 13 years, egregious social traditions mean that women still have little involvement in the political system and in lawmaking.”

Debate participant Mukhtar Ahmad Amiri asked Zabuli why laws did not appear to favour men and women equally.

Zabuli said this was due to male domination of the political system.

“Since men play a larger role in parliament and the current system than women, laws are approved the way men want them,” he said. “This way, they can easily get what they want.”

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.

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