March 8th, 2010
07:38 AM ET

Still a long road to equality for women in Afghanistan

What's it mean to be a woman in Afghanistan? Chances are you can't read or write, you married before you were 18 years old and have around 6 kids, and you may be working — but you're getting paid half of what your male counterparts make.

On International Women's Day, take a look at how women in Afghanistan fare, according to the 2010 report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

POPULATION: Females make up almost 49 percent of the 23.9 million people in Afghanistan.

EDUCATION: Despite gains in the last few years in education, only 12 percent of women 15 years old and older can read and write (compared to 39 percent of men).

About a third of the 4.8 million children in grades 1-6 are girls, with about the same percentage in high schools — the number of girls in high school almost doubled from 2007 to 2008.

In college and vocational schools, the proportion drops — about 18 percent of college students are women, and about 15 percent of vocational school students.

MARRIAGE: An estimated 60-80 percent of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan. The mean age of marriage is about 18 for women and 25 for men.

HEALTH: One woman dies every 29 minutes in child birth, the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. The average woman had 6.3 children. And average life expectancy for women in Afghanistan? Around 43 years old (The life expectancy for U.S. females is around 80 years old, by comparison).

VIOLENCE: Out of the incidents reported against women, about 30 percent were related to physical violence, about the same amount to pschological violence, about a quarter had to do with sexual violence and about 14 percent were a combination of all three categories. And women don't have to look far for their perpetrators — about 8 in 10 incidents are committed by family members.

AT WORK: About 47 percent of working age women are actually in the labor market, compared to 86 percent of men. Those that are in the work force aren't getting paid the same as men — about half as much in agriculture jobs, for example.

And odds are if you're a woman in Afghanistan that you're not in the legal or military profession — Women make up less than 1 percent of the military, less than 5 percent of judges and less than around 6 percent of attorneys or prosecutors. In 2007 (latest figures available), the number of women in the police force increased to 275 from 164.

POLITICS: The world of politics is a little more favorable workplace for women. Women represent about a quarter of the National Assembly, and about around 20 percent of all government workers are women.

RELATED: Opinion: Never dismiss power of Afghan women 

More on women in Afghanistan:
Human Rights Watch: Women's Rights in Afghanistan
United Nations Development Fund for Women – Afghanistan
Women for Afghan Women
Women for Women International
Vital Voices Global Partnership

soundoff (139 Responses)
  1. Angela

    Even though some of these hardships are considered religion, it gives no reason for these women to be treated the way they were/are treated. To think of all the rights us women in the United States are given compared to the rights these women receive are so far from each other. I do not believe women in America realize how lucky we are to be respected and how fast things can change. It is astounding how people can treat each other.

    March 22, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Michelle

    Rafiq – Until she is the boss of her life (and not just the house and taking care of men) YOU will never understand. Who cares about being the "boss" of the house when you can't leave your husband if he beats you. hmmmph!

    March 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    Yet more proof that Islam is a disease.

    March 17, 2010 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  4. MUSLIM MAN

    BIASED REPORT TO DEFAME ISLAM

    March 17, 2010 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. Joey

    This is why i'm so prideful in what i do (US Air Force). Muslim women are treated somewhere in the same area as your new carpet rug from IKEA.I'm so sick of people blaming religion so they can mistreat these poor brain washed,uneducated,beaten,and good spirited women. They know nothing else and these muslim men take advantage of this! Oh and heaven forbid if a mother wants to have americans give her child medicine because he is sick she might be assainated by being rocked to death because she aided americans.

    March 17, 2010 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
  6. ALI

    instead of wasting billions of dollar in war .if americans just put half of that amount in education and hosapitals the condition would be much better

    March 16, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tina

    Look as the U.S.'s example of womankink (Nancy Pelosi)

    I think I will take an Afgan woman any day.
    Hopefully they don't turn out like her.

    March 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MRworldPOLICEman

    Men are terrified of women.
    Women are so powerful that men have to sublimate and overpower them to keep them down.
    Rise up, women, and raise the men and women of the future with a new mindset.
    The hand that rocks the cradle truly rules the world.

    Posted by: OldGirl

    Look at America. Woman are given more rights than men, yet the male and female species are always at odds. "MOST" men know only one thing, and that is to work. "MOST" woman know how to nurture. Both sexes can accomplish both things but with different outcomes. Woman want the same rights but dont want to share the same responsibilities. When a man can be home and not work, or work if he decides too without being judged by woman is when we shall all get equal rights. When woman buy dinner for men without it being auckward is the day we shall all equal. When naturally born men can give birth is the day we will all be equal. Look at the divorce rate. Who do you suppose end up doing drugs that is the result of the war on drugs. The children of the divorce who loose their dads. THERE WILL NEVER BE AN EQUALITY. JUST ACCEPT THAT AND LEAVE THE REST OF THE WORLD ALONE. WE HAVE PROBLEMS HERE TO FIX.

    March 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Julie Z

    So! Hows that been working out so far having men in charge! No so much or at all! Please step aside and let the Women, peace keepers get the job done!

    March 16, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Nathanael [desert voice]

    Both Naimah and Ayesha deserve credit for the way they address the plight of women under Islam! Although myself a Christian, I have long been coming to the realization that what we regard as an epitome of true freedom may not be freedom at all. My quarrel with Islam, if you can call it that, is not so much about "burkas" and a certain inherent inequality, at least in appearance, but with the major issues like the endless cruel bombings, massacres of Christians, and a simingly endless hostility towards non-Moslems. The issues of women are important, and I am the first to defend their every right, under every religion. Especially, I am for their equal education and the freedom to work and own property. I must repeat that I find the posts of Naimah and Ayesha fascinating because they alert us, the Westerners, that there is more than one way of seeing reality, and at the same time, they both are open to seeking common ground and excellence in all things! Because, although there is nothing wrong in seeing from different angles, ultimately we will only attain freedom if our different views converge into one common prism of brotherhood and love!

    March 16, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ray

    It is a shame to see women mistreated. But on the other hand, equal rights doesn't solve everything. The US still has domestic violence, divorce, un-wanted pregnancies. There are still a lot of un-solved problems. Yes the women can vote and get a college degree here, but not all women want that, some would still rather stay at home raise children and have a man support them. There's nothing wrong with that either.

    March 16, 2010 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  12. felicia langa

    a crime against huminity is not acceptable in this times, this is 21st century and many countries are adapting to that. i think the un should do something to ensure that the rights of women are recognised in afghanistan since well the government isn't doing anything. i really feel sorry for the women in afghanistan. really something must be done to improve the conditions and situations women find themselves in in afghanistan.

    March 16, 2010 at 4:21 am | Report abuse |
  13. Anupam

    @angela

    Did you happen to notice that Trusha Patel was the name of an Indian lady? So you were talking about how ignorant an Indian lady was ABOUT INDIAN LADIES. The irony is overwhelming.

    March 16, 2010 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
  14. @angela and @Abdul Kareem

    India is a vibrant and thriving society where women have greater powers in most cases than men including a 1/3rd reservation in the parliament. The first female supreme political leader in Asian history was an Indian. USA still does not have one. Sati is a thing of the distant past, dowry is almost at an end. Women are respected and cared for. They work as equals and more than men in almost all fields unlike in the west where they are humiliated and disgustingly treated as objects and unlike Pakistan et al. where they are treated worse than animals. @angela, please quit lying in a public forum, I know it comes easy to people like you, but please oh please stop trying to teach us your perverted morality. @Abdul Kareem, instead of talking in keywords try talking facts for a change.

    March 16, 2010 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. admiral 149

    Just think, in about sixty years these folks will be running all of Europe.

    March 15, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Ayesha

    I am myself am a muslim and it's really unfortunate that there is such a big misconception of women in Islam. If there is any religion out there that gives women the equal amount of rights as men, it's Islam. You can't always read and believe what some people may have to say. The best source to go to is the Quran (our holy book). Reading ANY passage from the Quran will clear any misconceptions one may have regarding women.

    Back to the article....

    Education: Won't any women desire learning? Every women wants to learn how to read and write. Unfortunately, these women belong to a 3rd world country therefore are not able to go to school because of the expense. Women in America can afford going to school because of all the loan opportunities. People take loans, people have part time jobs.. that's how they are able to go to school.

    Marriage: Now is "forced" the correct word to use or was this exaggerated? I think about 60-80% have "arranged" marriages. I myself had an arranged marriage, it's not what people think, you are not forced to marry the other person. In an arranged marriage, the families meet, they get to know each other and WITH the girls permission (as Islam says) the marriage is done. Now, over here in America.. look at the divorce rate, it's higgghhh! With an arranged marriage, it's probably less than 5%.. and why? Not because the women is not able to leave the marriage (she has full right to) it's because an arrange marriage is the smartest way to go. You are not marrying a stranger, you get to know this person and then marry him. The only difference with our culture and the American culture is that we don't need 8 years to get to know a person and then finally marry them and then get divorced. (I don't speak for every marriage, some American marriages are going strong, good for them, and I mean it. I speak for the majority).

    Violence: I agree completely, like almost everyyy county (including our own, America) there are large number of women who get abused. It's really sad that women go through this and have to suffer though this. May Allah (God) protect them all. Again, this has nothingg to do with the teaching of Islam. Unfortunately, some crazy men think they have the authority to put their women through this. (An example: a christian women in America is physically abused by her christian husband. There is noo wayy we can say Christianity allows this. No religion allows such an insane thing. The same way works in Afghanistan, a crazy man may do such a thing but Islam has NOTHING to do with violence.

    At work: It's wrong that women who work get paid less than men, it's not fair. Now, the women who choose to not work, should we look at that in a bad way? Absolutely not. Perhaps they choose to stay at home and raise their children on their own. I think that's a wonderful thing. Your priority in your life should be your family. You should have the house nice and clean, food ready for your husband when he's back from work, and children constantly supervised. There's nothing wrong with women who choose to work, that's fantastic, I worked myself, but we can't look down upon these women back in Afghanistan who choose to stay at home. Your family comes first, not these worldly matters like "money, money, money".

    Now related to someones post, they mentioned the clothing women have to wear back in Afganistan. Yes, Islam commands women to cover themselves. Is that such a bad thing? It's the most beautiful/ modest way to present yourself. Who wants their wife/girlfriend to walk around the streets half naked? It's appalling to see someone like that. For example: you go for a job interview, your not going to go in with a mini skirt and tank top. Most likely, you will go in wearing a business suit. These business suits cover one's body. So, we care so much to impress our possible future boss yet we walk around the streets dressed very improper in front of God, we don't care what He thinks? It's a very sad thing.

    I hope this message cleared any ill related thoughts to women in Islam. Thank you and I apologize if I offended anyone as that was not my intention.

    March 15, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Fawad

    Everyone talks about violence against women in Afghanistan. But no one describes the fact that women are respected in Afghanistan. The ties between a married couple is so deep that the man is ready to die to protect his wife or sister or mother. Further, men respect women a lot and always seek to help them.
    It's worth mentioning that there are few cases that women get beaten by men but no one likes those men who beat their wives. Therefore, those angry men frequently get advised to prevent from violence.
    In the urban areas, women are given almost equal opportunity to education and work. However, I believe, that the most important thing for now is education for women. As long as the women get educated, they can get paid as much as men. This being said, women still have some privileges to get good jobs even if they lack in education and knowledge in most of the cities.

    March 15, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Colin

    I have no respect for a religion that keeps fifty percent of its population in a state of glorified captivity. There is no meaningful distinction between culture and religion in this respect. We never hear of Buddhists, Christians, Jains or Jews keeping women veiled head to toe and subject to the death penalty if they give the slightest indication of sexual independence.

    We need to stop tip toeing around this primitive, barbaric religion and confront it for what it is.

    March 15, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Carolyn

    This article would be more relevant if statistics on other countries were included so people could reach an informed opinion.

    March 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  20. johanna

    send the ACLU to Afganistan and change their name to HCLU (Human)

    where they can accomplish some good again like in their glory days.

    March 15, 2010 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  21. Ex-soldier

    Re: Jan

    We're the global police because that is what everyone else looks to us to be. Anytime there's a disaster, etc, the world looks to us to fix it. It's a heavy burden on us and on our troops.

    March 15, 2010 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  22. Naimah

    Notions of progress within feminism cannot be equated with assimilation to so-called Western notions of agency and political mobilization. For example, the imposition of versions of agency onto Third World contexts, and focusing on the ostensible lack of agency as signified by the veil or the burka, not only misunderstands the various cultural meanings that the burka may carry for women who wear it, but also denies the very idioms of agency that are relevant for such women.

    We have to consider the demands of cultural translation that we assume to be part of an ethical responsibility as we try to think the global dilemmas that women face.

    March 15, 2010 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  23. G Koseli

    Come on, This country still living in 19th century and you are comparing women rights with today's United States. Not only women rights, everything ruined in Afghanistan. No government, brutal wars, Russian occupation, no education, no public services and you comparing women rights with USA. Life is in this country has problems not for only women for everyone. Can you imagine if you had same conditions (no government, no police, no justice system, main export item is drugs, no education, no job, just gangs hiring, no security, no social help, no public service) in your country what would be right of women. Maybe you should go and check women's condition in the poorest neighborhood (even if conditions are better than Afghanistan) of your city.

    March 15, 2010 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  24. Sterry

    I am an American soldier who has spent 2 years as a Combat Advisor living in a mud hut with the Afghan people. Afghanistan is an ancient culture that is just now coming to grips with Western Society. For the women, as well as all of the people of this land, it is a long hard road. Do not dismiss them out of hand, for they are where America was 200 years ago in a new-born country. It all takes time to develop, it does not happen overnight. The Afghans are working on it...give them a chance to learn & grow. Afghan culture will regain the place it held prior to Soviet occupation in 1979, and develop beyond that...my job, & that of my brothers in arms is to provide them the security to do that. Just like the Afghans; 'we're working on that" Afghan women are tougher than any western woman can ever imadgin; they are survivors. And they are learning. Give them time. For you western women who wish to know what it was like to be an Afghan woman under the Taliban; after reading this, use your computers search engine to find the keywords "Osama Movie" and check it out. It's not about the bin Laden guy, it's about an Afghan girl coming of age in Kabul before things were as good as they are now.

    March 15, 2010 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
  25. Thro

    It's amazing how many people have steadfast opinions on places that they literally have no direct experience or knowledge of.

    March 15, 2010 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
  26. Masi

    If any ones want to help these women, then please send donation for schools and hospitals and dont support war and bombs.

    March 14, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Asma Khan

    Majority population the world is in poverty, why in the world would someone just bring women for this issue... its just propaganda against Muslim countries and nothing more... its the western countries where women are treated as objects for fun... countries like USA eat much of the world resources where majority of the population of the world dont get to eat anything....

    March 14, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Trish

    my heart cries out for these women , what makes men think they are any better. culture or not no women deserves that treatment they mother and populate the country ,should be showin them some respect they need to be in charge without them there would be no Afghanistan

    March 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  29. raman

    the difference between highest way of life, attitudes and values enunciated in scriptures and how an average family practices it defines the cultural level of a society. and again how rational , logical and scientific attitudes integrates with the society also counts. the west has an early advantage of 300 years over several parts of asia.

    March 14, 2010 at 6:12 am | Report abuse |
  30. Sydney Australia

    I regularly get together to prepare birthing kits with a group of volunteers. These kits consist of nothing more than a sheet of black plastic, a razor blade, 2 clips, 4 pieces of gauze, some soap and a pair of gloves. Believe it or not, these kits are all that stop some women and babies from dying in places like Afghanistan. The 1,000 kits that we get done in a morning hardly even scratch the surface of what is required over there.

    I am always happy to go and donate my time putting these things together, and I am always so thankful that women in Australia have better conditions to give birth in than that. Mothers, just be happy you don't live there.

    March 14, 2010 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  31. H.J.S.

    Two words: SHARIA LAW
    The Ayatollah's say there is "No such thing as Moderate Islam"
    We in western culture see this as miss treatment of Women. In Islam the Sharia Law comes from the Sunna, Koran, Hadith, and their Ulema. They usually do not see these things as miss treatment of women, women must be kept from dishonoring the family.
    F.Y.I. Ulema means "The Learned Ones" which are there past and present scholars and they interpret the Sharia.
    It's not just Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia this month a woman was sentenced to 300 lashes and 18 months in prison for not being escorted in public by a male guardian. These are not "isolated" instances it is their LAW.

    March 13, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Elmo

    This is crazy, no human being regardless of the gender should be treated in such ways. The majority of men in Afghanistan just can't stand seeing women succeed instead.

    March 13, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Mohamed

    Before U.S and their pupet governments like UK invaded Afghanistan, they used to say Taliban force Afghanistan woman to wear BURKA. After 9 years, that was not the case because Afghanist woman are still wearing BURKA. Also Afghanistan woman used to wear BURKA before Taliban.

    March 13, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  34. teacher

    In response to Ayat's comment, a woman is not the one who chooses whether or not she covers her entire body; it is her husband's choice. The Qu'ran is terribly misinterpreted by so many Muslims and I experience this on a daily basis. Working with Muslims in the U.S., I have females who are not allowed to talk to men. And I teach an English conversation class! It is a shame the Muslim women's education comes second to the needs and ambitions of of their husbands. Unfortunately, these discrepancies among men and women are not unique to Afghanistan. This inferior mentality, a result of extreme Muslim beliefs, has created a barrier for women across the globe.

    March 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Jules

    Reading some of the comments by some of the males here, it would appear that some of them think we're all drug addicted, unwed mothers in the West. Well, that isn't true. Also, since drugs come from places like Afghanistan and some Afghans themselves are addicts, that is a stupid thing to say. It is a sad society which is so frightened of half its population that it has to subjugate them and abuse them. It's time for men in countries like these to be real men and to look after their wives and daughters, cherish them, trust them and treat them with respect. They should encourage their women to be educated. This isn't a bad thing as some of the ignorant people on this site seem to think. Maybe some of the people on this site need to be educated better too so that we can eliminate this Dark Ages mentality once and for all. On another note, the forced marriages of these women in Afghanistan are worse than unwed mothers – there is no love involved and often these Afghan women are not "women" but girls – you could actually view it as pedophilia. They definitely should bring in laws in Afghanistan to protect these young girls from predatory males and raise the marriage age and also only allow it if the woman agrees and is not forced into agreeing.

    March 13, 2010 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  36. dhenayu

    i won't be afghanistan woman which empowered by men. i can stand with my own feet. i can do what i wanna do. i have power to determine my own life.

    March 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Farhan

    Muslims often defend the inequalities between men and women by comparing Islam with other religions and saying how much better it is for women. The problem is that in reality muslim society is most unfair to women. The main reason for this is that muslims tend to be much more religious and fundamentalist compared to other religions. So while the other societies have moved beyond their religions and base a society based on modern principles of equality and freedom. Afghanistan, Iraq were much better for woman and minorities when the state didnt give a damn about mullahs and koran. The only way to save the muslim society is to stop it from being religious. Muslims have to realize that being religious by the book is not a virtue but a vice.

    March 12, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
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