Frontline World

Afghanistan - A House for Haji Baba, Ocotber 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "A House for Haji Baba"

Behind the Lens

Danger, Determination and Destiny

Politics, Security, Health, Education

Government, Population, Economy

Background, Reconstruction Efforts, Warlordism




Invisible Women
Politics: Struggling to Speak Security: Fear and Violence Health: A Risky Place to Be Female Education: Learning for Change

Politics: Struggling to Speak

Since the fall of the Taliban, a few women have reappeared on Afghanistan's political stage, urged on by the United States, international donors and President Hamid Karzai. Women were vocal participants in the country's first post-Taliban loya jirga, or "grand council," despite reports of harassment and intimidation, and 12.5 percent of the delegates were women. Out of 30 cabinet ministers in the interim government, two -- the ministers of women's affairs and public health -- are women. Some women involved in reconstruction complain that the female ministers lack real power within the government and that the government itself lacks real power outside of Kabul.

Photo courtesy Sarah Chayes
A recent conference in Kandahar, organized by Afghans for Civil Society and other nongovernmental groups, brought together women from a wide range of backgrounds, including educated professionals, illiterate women, Afghan Americans, one of Kandahar's two female police officers and several prisoners from a nearby women's prison. The women presented President Karzai with a draft of an "Afghan women's bill of rights." According to Masuda Sultan, program director of Women for Afghan Women, the majority of conference attendees "wanted their laws to be based on Islamic principles. But they didn't want the version of Islam that was put out there by the Taliban." Among the 16 rights they demanded were mandatory education for girls, freedom of speech, the criminalization of sexual harassment and domestic violence, equal representation in the loya jirga and the parliament, and the right to marry and divorce according to Islamic law.

Many women fear that even if ratified at the constitutional loya jirga in December 2003, the rights won't be protected. One woman told Afghans for Civil Society that "you could write five constitutions, [but] so long as men have guns on their shoulders, ... it won't do anything."


2003 United Nations report on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan

Results of the Kandahar Women's Law Group Constitution Questionnaire, completed by six Afghan women; sponsored by Afghans for Civil Society and the National Endowment for Democracy (Adobe Acrobat file)

Breakdown of successes and challenges for Afghan women six months after the fall of the Taliban; provided by U.K.-based organization Womankind (Adobe Acrobat file)

Afghans for Civil Society works on democracy and development from its base in Kandahar

New York-based Women for Afghan Women advocates for women's rights

• POLITICS: Struggling to Speak
• SECURITY: Fear and Violence
• HEALTH: A Risky Place to Be Female
• EDUCATION: Learning for Change

back to top