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A Brief history of Afghanistan and its women through the ages

Niranjan Bhombe

Shreya Sharma

28 February 2023

"Not a very astonishing act of humanity, when another country denied the ...."

.....basic rights a woman can ask for. Just a few years back when the Afghani women learned to breathe and enjoy their freedom, they are again asked to lock and hide themselves up and live according to the code of conduct set by the Talibanis, after all, women are just puppets for them.



Women in Yesterday’s Afghanistan


The scope of women in any country has always been decided by the historical, political, social, economic, and religious forces. The same goes with Afghanistan the political and powerful nature of tribal dictates in the Afghan countryside, and the oppositional ruling parties and elite were instrumental in shaping the future of women in Afghanistan. In addition to a range of internal tensions, outside or international political forces have impacted Afghanistan in significant ways. 


Abdur Rahman Khan and his lineage i.e., his son Amir Habibullah Khan and his grandson Amanullah were amongst the prominent change makers of the customary laws that were deleterious to women's status. The rise in women's rights in Afghanistan began with the rule of Abdur Rahman Khan who ruled from 1880 to 1901. The transformation began with the amendments made to the marriage and property laws.


Under Habibullah’s reign, a school for girls was opened with an English curriculum due to Mahmud Beg Tarzi’s liberal influence which tribal leaders and mullahs saw as going against the grain of tradition, which resulted in Habibullah’s assassination in 1919. The assassination of Habibullah placed his son Amanullah on the throne marking the full-fledged modernization period of Afghanistan. Amanullah publicly campaigned against the veil, against polygamy, and encouraged the education of girls not just in Kabul but also in the countryside.


Following the exile of Amanullah, a series of rulers introduced conflicting laws regarding the status of women. From the total abrogation of gender equality laws under Amir Habibullah II, a Tajik (who ruled for nine months after Amanullah), to Nadir Shah who ousted him, women saw in the 1930s and 1940s a cautious introduction of rights. A chain of upgradation in women's rights can be seen throughout the Monarchy period after Abdur Rahman Khan.



Post Monarchy Period


With the indulgence of the Soviet Union, Afghanistan dwelled into another yet bigger modernizing journey. With the foreign aid and technical assistance provided by the Soviet Union, women saw many new opportunities and rights their way. Women were expected once again to abandon the veil, marriage expenses were curtailed, asked to contribute to the economy without the fear of society. In the coming years, women started becoming nurses, doctors, teachers, etc. After the third constitution was brought into effect women were allowed to enter elected politics and gave them the right to vote. 


Petrified by the status and basic rights that were given to the Afghani women, the mullahs and tribal chiefs were again concerned about the traditional values, which further led to incidents of the shooting of women in western dresses, PDPA reformers in the rural areas and general harassment of women social workers increased. Another struggling journey for the women of Afghanistan started when the soviets left the country. In the year 1992, Mujahideen took over Kabul and a total infringement of women's rights was seen afterward. The improvisation of the status of women took a back foot as now women were expected to cover themselves up from head to toe, lesser women were seen on television and in professional jobs, universities and libraries were burnt, and women were asked to stay at home. 


Taliban supported by the USA, Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia was asked to counter the mismanaged politics and unexpected brutalities of the Mujahideen, but the Taliban proved to be no better than the “mujahideen cult” itself. With the increase in women's rights all around the globe, Afghanistan again sat on a donkey riding backward which resulted in the decline of women's rights that included not allowing them to go to schools.


After the US intervention in Afghanistan took place against the Talibanization that took place in the country beginning from 1994 till 2001. The US started sending army troops trying to capture the important cities of Afghanistan which filled a sense of relief in Women’s life. In 2014 US govt. closed all the military operations in Afghanistan and withdrew the US army back from Afghanistan and handed over the control to the Afghan National Army which failed to erase the impact of the Taliban from the ground roots of the villages though cities were still in their control.



The phase change in 2014


Afghanistan witnessed its first democratic transfer of power when Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president in September 2014. The condition of women in Afghanistan was no better after 2014 as the impact and fear of Talibanis was still instilled in them but surely the position of women there began to improve. More and more girls back then began enrolling in schools. Women were employed at a much faster rate than men, and more and more army and police enlistments of women began taking place under the government. Despite all these advancements, violence against women was still a problem, with beatings, forced marriages, and lack of economic support.



Another black era for Afghanistan


As soon as the US withdrawal of the troops took place, former president Ashraf Ghani fled away, and in no time the capital city Kabul was captured by the ‘Taliban’. With the whole country dipping in sorrow and when the countrymen were trying to escape as they knew what future was ahead of them, the talibanis were enjoying the throne. 


But the most afraid of that situation were the Afghani women, who had earlier faced every kind of oppression any person can only have a nightmare of. It has been 1.5 years since the Taliban took control of the country and the situation there has only worsened. With the implementation of the Sharia law, Women have seen their rights extirpated. The Taliban have prohibited most girls from attending secondary school, banned all women from attending and teaching at universities, prevented women from working, and prohibited women from working at local and international NGOs. Now women are expected to only appear in public with a male chaperone and to completely cover their bodies. The rates of child marriage have also increased. 





Afghanistan has always been in a state of tumult from the very beginning of its existence. A country that every other foreign power has thought of taking control of has never actually functioned on its own. A majority of the country that has always operated on the frame of mind and directives of the locals and a very conservative male-dominated society has never actually considered women to be its counterpart or equals. The condition of women has never seen a very bright state for a long period of time, the rights given to them were always fluctuating. The Taliban takeover in August 2021 has erased all the rays of hope that were residing in the hearts of Afghani women.

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