Women’s rights in Afghanistan are hanging by a thread. This is the finding of our new report published ahead of the July 8th Tokyo Conference (discussing the future of Afghanistan and the funding the country needs to progress).
Violence against women remains endemic in Afghanistan, with attacks on women becoming more frequent as tension grows in the run up to NATO troop withdrawal.
In new research, ActionAid has calculated that the gains of the past 10 years are in danger of being reversed unless international donors spend at least $90 million over five years – or $18 million a year - to tackle violence against women.
The agency points out that this is three times the amount currently being discussed by donors for this issue.
Yet $18 million is still only of a quarter of one per cent of Afghanistan’s total yearly aid budget.
ActionAid’s report 'Afghan women’s rights on the brink: Why the international community must act to end violence against women in Afghanistan' finds that the security of Afghan girls and women is tied to the economic growth and development of the country and cannot be separated from it.
Consequently, ActionAid says the prospects for Afghanistan’s future development will be severely compromised if women’s fears for their security prevent them from playing a full and active role in Afghan society.
Melanie Ward, ActionAid’s Head of Public Affairs said that the status of women and women’s rights in Afghanistan post 2014 NATO troop withdrawal will be the measuring stick used to determine the legacy of military operations in Afghanistan.
Melanie Ward said: “Since 2000, there have been some real improvement in Afghan women’s rights but these are now hanging in the balance as violence against women increases in the run up to 2014.
"Attacks on women are mounting. Those that ActionAid works with tell us they leave their homes every morning not knowing if they will return alive in the evening.
"There is growing evidence of a ‘brain drain’ in Afghanistan. Increasingly, the most educated Afghan women don’t feel they have a future in their country and those who remain feel their choices to work are being taken away from them.
“The international community has spent billions in Afghanistan. Now a mere $90 million is needed to ensure that progress in tackling violence against women is not lost and is advanced in future. The UK Government should take the lead in ensuring that this sum is raised at the Tokyo conference” says Melanie Ward.
The gains and the losses
ActionAid recognises the significant gains made to improve the lives of girls and women in Afghanistan.
An estimated two million girls are now attending school, 25% of government jobs are filled by women and just over 27% of MPs are women, one of the highest representations of women in parliament anywhere in the world.
Afghanistan has approved a new constitution enshrining equal rights to men and women and in 2009 a landmark law was passed, the Elimination of Violence against Women Law.
However, women across Afghanistan continue to live in fear of violence.
Many Afghan women especially those living in the more conservative southern provinces still face restrictions and violence when working away from home and many do not send their daughters to school because of fears for their safety. There is also the increasing use of acid attacks.
An ActionAid survey of 1,000 women across Afghanistan in 2011 found the biggest fear of women under 30 was sexual assault.
The women surveyed were all more fearful of sexual assault than of abduction, kidnapping or being caught in an explosion combined.
And women who enter public life do so at significant risk – female activists and professional women are facing assassination attempts that are often deadly. These include teachers, local council members and police women.
“There is still a mountain to climb to ensure the girls and women of Afghanistan can flourish and enjoy their full human rights.
"It’s imperative that the government of Afghanistan and the international community put women’s rights at the centre of the Tokyo conference and that they fund this properly,” said Melanie Ward.