By Asad Ziar
Millions of dollars were raised & spent for the empowerment of women in Afghanistan but we are yet to witness any positive impacts of the funds on Afghan Women except few. Hundreds of programs were implemented by national and international organizations and most of the donors generously donated huge amount of funds to support and assist Afghan Women Empowerment programs. In fact if all these funds were utilized properly and to bring changes in the lives of Afghan Women why they are still struggling to survive? In fact the battle for empowering women rages on in Afghanistan where violence and oppression against women is a daily occurrence.
In a report released by the Office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) , which oversees U.S. spending efforts on reconstruction, states that the Defense and State Departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) were unable to identify the portions of programs that specifically related to Afghan women.
There are many instances that instead of moving forward we are taking U-turn, ie Afghan National Women’s Cricket Team was formed in 2010 by Diana Barakzai but according to Nasimullah Danish, the newly appointed chairman of Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) “National Women’s Cricket Team does not exist, stating that the situation is not very much prepared for developing women’s cricket in Afghanistan.” Danish who wants to make Afghanistan a top cricket playing nation in the coming 10 years will also have to promote and develop the women’s squad too if he is to achieve his goal of making Afghanistan a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), In fact a national women’s team is one of the criteria to enjoy the privileges of full member of the ICC.
What is Women Empowerment?
Women’s Political Empowerment: It usually visualizes as political participation in elections and government, It is necessary to give women a voice in the policies that affect their lives.
Women’s Economic Empowerment: This means that women should have the authority to make their own decisions regarding the use of their resources and help in prosperity for families and communities.
Women become full member of society when they have both economic and political powers.
Women’s Social Empowerment: It is often achieved through public policy and education, It protects women from the mistreatment, exploitation, and oppression which inhibit women from reaching their full potential.
Referring to the above explanation it seems that in Afghanistan women empowerment is far from reality. It is still a concept that that has not been taken seriously by mostly male dominated political sphere. The challenges & atrocities that women in Afghanistan face in order to secure an income for her family to raising children amidst the harsh economic crisis are increasing and it is primarily because of the lack of political will and laws that perpetuate gender inequity at the national level. Most Afghans believe that Afghan Women suffered the most in the past three decades of conflict and even Dr. Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan President believes that women suffered the most but still we are only witnessing short term seminars, workshops, parties, exhibitions, demonstrations, gatherings etc in favor of Afghan Women Empowerment and Rights and as well the Elimination of Violence against Women Act (EVAW) was passed in 2009 during the era of Hamid Karzai Ex Afghan President. The exceptional law criminalizes twenty two offences, starting from forced prostitution to denying women their inheritance, the law prescribes punishments for offenders and summarize a number of state responsibilities. Most particularly, Article 6 enshrines seven victims’ rights, including the right of prosecution, legal representation and compensation. Now as we have law and we have the international community on our side to eliminate violence against women then why we are witnessing the increment in violence why not decrement?
The Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan (AIHRC) stated that “violence against women in Afghanistan reached record levels in 2013, Figures released by AIHRC shows that the six-month period between March and September 2013 witnessed a 25 percent increase in recorded attacks. The brutal attacks were more frequent with incidents including the cutting of noses, lips and ears, and public rape.”
Hence it is clear that the law is passed but not implemented or followed, short term seminars, workshops, parties, exhibitions, demonstrations, gatherings are all for gaining the attractions of the donors to run the businesses on the name of Afghan Women’s Rights & Empowerment Projects. The recent heart breaking incident in Nejrab district of Kapisa province, where the relatives of the victim have accused six Afghan Local Police (ALP) personnel of gang rapping a 12 years old girl in Ghuchlan village is an example of the continuation of violence against girls and women in country. In most cases failure to take serious legal actions against perpetrators created a sense of distrust on Afghan Government and in some cases the victims have to remain silent and not report the incidents. The reason that police and judiciary are not taking prompt actions on cases of this kind is wide spread corruption in public departments, they delay proceedings, and let suspects enjoy normal lives in return for bribes.
Kapisa is located in the north-east of the country and it is only one and half hour drive from Kabul that is a vital reason the victim along with her relatives reached Kabul and managed to share the brutal incident with Afghan electronic & print media. Abdul Qadir, the victim’s uncle demanded the government hang the rapists. He warned if the rapists are not executed, 5000 youth of the Paracha tribe are ready to launch an uprising against the government.
The UN Women Chief Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has already made it public that “violence against women and girls is exceptionally high in Afghanistan and is almost at a pandemic level, with up to 87.2 percent of women having experienced some form of violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, economic violence, social abuse as well as forced and early marriage”
United Nations, USAID and many other donors support the Afghan Government to help Afghan women to take-up leadership roles and see that women are supported and trained to take part in decision-making processes at the community level, and in sub-national and national governance roles. It is a fact that the United Nation and other donors have helped support few of the Afghan Women reached the Afghan Parliament and Senate, some of these parliamentarians and senators are even unable to stay few days at their own provinces to raise the voices of the women for their rights and against the injustice with them, some are only available on TV screens in talk shows, they are mostly updating themselves about their provincial issues through media and few of them who were shopping in Kabul are now going for shopping with their family members to Dubai, Istanbul & New Delhi. In fact they must be thankful to UN and other donors for their support since they are really enjoying all the privileges of their rights and even more, they are moving in luxury vehicles even armored and tinted glasses vehicles and staying in luxury houses in the capital Kabul. In some cases they are securing government contracts for their family members and relatives on partnership and commission bases.
It is understandable that insurgency is extending from south to north and even central parts of the country and it may remain a threat to security and stability of the country and of course it will displace more people and will restrict humanitarian access and the Afghan Government’s limited capacity to provide basic life essentials are also challenges. The question again arises that why the economy and security is worsening day by day in almost all parts of the country? There might be many incidents happened like the Kapisa Gang Rape, in addition why would victim come to Kabul to beg for justice? It is right that some of the Afghans chose the wrong people to serve them, and help in the development of the country, empower justice and implement the rule of law. Most of them that they chose are busy in their personal interests and businesses and they do not have time for the interest of the people and the country.
A September 21 agreement brokered by United States & United Nations between Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah provided for the establishment of a national unity government as a result Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as Afghanistan’s new president on 29th of September 2014 and he is yet to announce his cabinet. Afghans now doubt the capacity of the Afghan National Unity Government and not optimistic about the future of country. A national unity government never means power sharing between two parties and appointing two heads for a single state but to serve the nation in a good way while it is seems very different in Afghanistan. If a government is unable to appoint a single minister in the first three months of its rule how can it come with solutions for other major issues that the country faces? Indeed there are other issues like insecurity and corruption which are on the priority of the newly established unity government and the women rights and empowerment seems far from priority.
Various studies have shown that women’s participation in the workforce and in leadership positions play a vital role in economic and overall development. According to a report by the World Bank, in Afghanistan the labor participation rate of women over the age of 15 years was 14.4 percent in 2012, compared to 80 percent for men, moreover there are about 74,000 women out of 363,000 Afghan state employees. The World Bank lists Afghanistan 160th out of the 183 nations it ranks in its yearly ‘Ease of Doing Business’ list
If Afghan Government is striving for the development of an economically strong and stable Afghanistan, it has to prioritize the women’s participation in the workforce and leadership positions. The threat of rape, harassment and loss of honor are playing a vital role in keeping Afghan women at home than religious motivations therefore workplace safety is a fundamental right which provide women with mechanisms to seek balance if this right be violated.
“I’m not dependent on my husband’s salary and I can easily purchase clothes, shoes, groceries, and school materials to my kids. I am even saving sometimes for emergencies.” Said Ms.Shekeba 34, who is working as a check & control officer for a small Afghan owned fabric processing company called Kabul Loom Textile Manufacturing Company located inside the Bagrami Industrial Estate, Kabul.
Ms.Suraya 21 who was busy sewing a private security guard uniform at the same company is also a university student states that “It was not possible for me to keep my education going on and now as I am earning I am happy that I can proceed with my higher education”
Kabul Loom Textile Manufacturing Company a part from fabric processing deals in hospital, security & school uniforms, Pashmina Shawl for both ladies and gents and middle east traditional male scarf ( Shemagh). The owner of the company Mohammad Nawab Niazi states “ There are 50 regular employees busy in our company, while we have 50 intermittent contract based staff too and most of them are females and as the business expands we will be increasing the staff in accordance with the volume of the contract”
In response to a question Mr.Niazi replied that government contracts are awarded to those who have good connection inside the relevant ministries , he added that sometimes the contracts are awarded to vendors who even does not know anything about the products or materials required they are going to deliver, and in some cases they compromise both in quality and in quantity, he added that we do have few contracts which are indirect because the contracts are awarded to those who do not have the capacity to prepare or fabricate the items but to deliver only. He further added that there are some factories and companies which have setup some factory like showrooms and after they are awarded the contracts they deliver the readymade products from China, Pakistan, Iran & India and in reality they do not have any sort of production inside Afghanistan but they do have active connection with the contract awarding panels.
The Afghan Government has to promote and assist those who are providing job opportunities for others and not those who are only doing a show business on the name of women rights and women empowerment. The authorities need to do more to prevent violence against women who work, particularly in government roles and to promote the economic and social empowerment of women through the formation of self-managed and self-sustaining savings groups
The path towards a prosperous future of Afghanistan cannot be accomplished if women’s insights and resources are not utilized properly. Women who are empowered will be solutions to poverty, poor health, injustice and vulnerability for their families and even for their communities. The future of Afghanistan will be decided by the people of Afghanistan and a political solution has to be brought in based on the Afghan constitution and the improvement of human rights and women’s rights.