March 8, is globally celebrated as Women’s Day. This day is also marked annually in Afghanistan in which government officials and women’s rights advocates speak about developments, opportunities and challenges women have experienced in the past one year.
But these gatherings are mostly symbolic and confined in slogans. Thousands of Afghan women are suffering from different family and social problems and obstacles that could be mostly seen in rural areas specifically where security situation is critical.
Women, who have been deprived of their rights in our conservative male-dominated society throughout the history, are still grappling with problems even under the democratic governance system that has apparently made efforts to help them enjoy their rights. Although it should not be ignored that some changes have taken place to improve women’s conditions. Afghan women who were entirely banned from going to school, university and taking part in social activities are now seen in almost every part of the society. The doors of schools and higher education institutions are open for them and they are working in government and non-government organizations. Women hold high-profile government positions and serve in army and police – something that was never seen before.
In spite of these achievements, women are still far from reaching their rights. Family restrictions, forced marriages, teenage marriages and their dependence on others in making decisions are the major problems girls and women are facing.
Women especially in rural areas have to get married off to a person of their families’ choice, they are not allowed to continue education after finishing preliminary school and some of them even are not allowed to go to school. In parts of the country women are considered as second class and cannot independently decide about their future.
The independent human rights commission says it registered 158 cases of underage marriages last year. Teenage girls have to marry men they don’t know and don’t feel comfortable with. In such circumstances, families particularly fathers or elder brothers call the last shot and most of the girls have to marry elder wealthy men.
House escapes, suicides and self-immolations are choices that women resort to when they feel completely defenseless. In the 21st century when everything is at par with civil laws and men and women make their own decisions, Afghan women still should obey medieval traditions. To improve overall status of women and create a human and Islamic equality in the society, we need more efforts and struggles.