Gender Equality in Afghanistan

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Flag of Afghanistan
Population (in Mil.) 29.73
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 20.54
Sex Ratio (m/f) 1.03
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.033898305
Fertility Rate 5.39
Estimated Earned Income (f/m)
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 3.3
Women in Parliament (in %) 27.7
Human Development Index 175/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 69/86
Gender Inequality Index 175/186
Gender Equity Index 154/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index /128
Global Gender Gap Index /68
More information on variables

In the news



Women are offered very little protection under the law and certain legislation actually undermines women’s security. When President Karzai came into power claiming that he was moderate on women’s issues, there was hope that reforms would be made to protect women. But a bill passed on July 27th, 2009 contained repressive measures specifically for Shia families (10-20% of the population) that not only continued to strip away women’s liberties, but also contradicted the Afghan constitution and international treaties signed by the country. Some of the law’s provisions include the ability for rapists to avoid prosecution if they pay money to the victim’s family, husbands to not give their wives food and water if they refuse his sexual demands, that the sole custody of children is granted to their fathers and grandfathers and that women must receive permission from their husbands if they want to work.[1] While not explicitly stated in penal code, women that have had sexual relations before being married (even if they were raped) or are thought to have committed adultery, face severe consequences including significant jail time or even death.


Along with the lack of sufficient Education for women, employment also poses a significant problem for women in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule (1996-2001), women were allowed to set up businesses from their homes, but had severe limitations on their ability to work in public places. Women were permitted to work in medical positions, but they could only treat female patients. Furthermore, women with children were not allowed to work at all.[2]

Since the fall of the Taliban, many women have tried to get back their former jobs as teachers, civil servants and doctors, but while Article 48 of the constitution stipulates that every Afghan has the right to work, the government has done little to help women access the labor market or to develop professional skills.[3] Despite that, the All Afghan Women’s Union has since provided professional training for about 10,000 women entrepreneurs and Microfinance Times claims that about 75% of microcredit borrowers in Afghanistan are women.[2] Women have opened their own small businesses in order to help support their families. The Afghan Women Judges Association has also worked to increase the number of female judges and lawyers (currently about 50 active female judges) in the country and to provide legal advice for vulnerable Afghan women.[2]

Despite these advances, many obstacles remain for women who want to join the labor market. Low literacy rates and poor education contribute to high unemployment levels for women. More importantly, traditional values are frequently evoked to keep women from working. Widespread disagreement about whether women should be able to work outside of the home and if they should be allowed to work in an office with other men has kept women out of most positions. And even for those that have businesses at home, they are still vulnerable to their husbands or other male family members taking control of their profits.


Under the Taliban rule from 1996-2001, girls were banned from education and women were not allowed to partake in outdoor activities. Girls were being obstructed from receiving a proper education due to systematic attacks on girls schools, particularly in rural areas, by the Taliban and other insurgents. With the new constitution, these restrictions were lifted. But attacks on schools continue. In 2010, UNICEF reports that in the 500+ attacks on schools throughout the year (not just girls’ schools), 167 students and school employees were killed and 527 wounded.[4] Female students and teachers have also been directly attacked by militants- some having been doused by acid and others shot directly.[5] UNICEF reports that the youth literacy rate for women aged 15-24 between 2004 and 2008 was only at 18%.[6]

But with new efforts by international organizations and foreign countries to negotiate with the Taliban, progress might be in the works. In the beginning of 2011, the Afghanistan Ministry of Education reported that Taliban leaders had informed elders in rural regions that girls could now attend separate schools as long as they and the female teachers wore the hijab and that the curriculum respected cultural and religious values. Schools have since been reopened and Najibullah Ahmadi, the director of education for the Kandahar Province, claims that thousands of girls have since enrolled.[4] Even if the Taliban respects this commitment, the country still has to face other problems: lack of funding to reopen schools, shortage of female teachers, ensuring security and shifting traditional parental views towards educating girls.

Political Empowerment

Since 2005, a push has been made to encourage women to take part in national politics due to pressure from the United Nations and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. In the directly elected lower house of the National Assembly, 68 of the 249 seats are reserved for women in the House of the People (Wolesi Jirga). In the upper house, provisions for women’s representation have also been made.[7] Unfortunately, pressure from warlords in rural areas and a traditional patriarchal culture frequently dissuade women, psychologically and physically, from running in elections. Faced with a traditional society that favors clan solidarity over gender equality, many women side with their families even when their rights are not respected within the family.[8] Furthermore, the extremely high percentage of female illiteracy (87%) has often been cited as one of the main reasons that female participation in the country’s 80 registered political parties remains low. Despite the obstacles, 40% of the 8 million Afghans who voted in the October 2004 presidential poll were women.[9] In the 2010 parliamentary elections, women accounted for roughly 16% of the candidates and 41% of the registered voters. Overall, 69 women were elected to the parliament. There were also two women presidential candidates for the 39 male candidates although female participation was inhibited by threats and religious restrictions on appearing in public and travelling alone.[7]


  1. Human Rights Watch: “Afghanistan: Law Curbing Women’s Rights Takes Effect,” on August 13, 2009
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 PBS Wide Angle: “Flying Down to Kabul Women in Afghanistan: Employment,” August 1, 2006
  3. The Asia Foundation: Najla Ayubi, “Women’s Biggest Problems in Afghanistan”, January 27, 2010
  4. 4.0 4.1 IRIN Analysis: “Girls’ education in Afghanistan - a new beginning?,” February 17, 2011
  5. “Arrests after Afghan acid attack,”, November 25, 2008
  6. UNICEF Statistics: Afghanistan
  7. 7.0 7.1 Freedom House Country Report: Afghanistan, 2010
  8. Nushin Arbabzadah, “Afghan women remain wary of politics – and rightly so,” in, on March 9, 2011
  9. IRIN News: “AFGHANISTAN: Getting more women into politics,” March 2, 2005

Social Institutions

The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) measures gender-based discrimination in social norms, practices and laws across 160 countries. The SIGI comprises country profiles, a classification of countries and a database; it serves as a research, policy and advocacy tool for the development community and policy makers.

The SIGI covers five dimensions of discriminatory social institutions, spanning major socio-economic areas that affect women’s lives: discriminatory family code, restricted physical integrity, son bias, restricted resources and assets, and restricted civil liberties. The SIGI’s variables quantify discriminatory social institutions such as unequal inheritance rights, early marriage, violence against women, and unequal land and property rights.

In the 2014 edition of the SIGI, Afghanistan has high levels of discrimination against women in social institutions. It has lower discrimination in restricted civil liberties and higher discrimination in discriminatory family code. Read the full country profile and access the data here:


See Also

The FAO Gender and Land Rights Database

FAO logo.jpg

The FAO Gender and Land Rights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender inequalities embedded in those rights. Disparity on land access is one of the major causes for social and gender inequalities in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Six categories

The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:

  • National legal frame
  • International treaties and conventions
  • Customary law 
  • Land tenure and related Institutions
  • Civil society organizations
  • Selected Land Related Statistics

For detailed information on Afghanistan, please visit the report on Afghanistan in the FAO Gender and Land Rights Database.


External Links

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