April 2, 2010 — By Najla Ayubi
Despite impressive efforts made since the Taliban was overthrown in late 2001, life remains extremely difficult for women in Afghanistan. The Asia Foundation’s annual Survey of the Afghan People has provided insight into some of the issues women face.
A lack of education for women has consistently polled as the biggest problem, reaching a high of 49 percent in our 2009 survey, followed by the lack of employment opportunities, at 28 percent in 2009.
Many factors exacerbate these problems. Just 23.5 percent of Afghanistan’s population above age 15 is literate, and the literacy rate for women is far worse at 12.6 percent. Afghanistan’s enrollment of girls in primary schools, at 36 percent, is also low for the region.
Despite these dismal figures, Afghanistan has experienced a few major achievements in education for women, including the adoption of certain guarantees in the constitution and the unprecedented enrollment of 2.2 million girls in primary schools.
Unemployment, the second biggest problem Afghan women face, rose from 31 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2009. Low literacy rates, a lack of professional skills, issues over women working with men, and poor security all contribute to the problem.
Public awareness programs that reinforce the Islamic notion that all men and women should have access to knowledge in order to mitigate discrimination against women are critical. Such programs could be implemented by religious scholars and clergies, civil society organizations, or
The Afghan government must address these problems. They could do so by working to: improve women’s education, provide better training for female teachers, encourage parents to send their daughters to school, foster public awareness to mitigate discrimination, and expand vocational training opportunities.
Najla Ayubi is a Program Director for Law, Human Rights, and Women’s Empowerment with The Asia Foundation in Afghanistan and a former judge and commissioner with the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan. Photo by Susan Marx