In the last decade significant improvements have occurred in the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan. Nonetheless all major social indicators continue to show a consistent pattern of women’s disempowerment in nearly all dimensions of their lives and Afghanistan remains one of the worst countries in the world to be born female[i]. Since 2001, 2.5 million girls have returned to school[ii], but illiteracy among women remains high (87.4 per cent)[iii]. Only 6 per cent of women over the age of 25 have a formal education, resulting in gaps in the labour market. Due to severe restrictions on mobility, only 8 per cent of women are involved in wage employment outside the agricultural sector[iv] and women remain severely under-represented in all sectors of society. Women’s mortality rate is higher than men’s, even when factoring in male combatants as evidenced in the fact that life expectancy is 48 years for men and 44 years for women.[v] Violence against women and girls remains endemic, with severe consequences for women’s health, security, mobility and economic and political empowerment. Although considered to be under-reported, over 4,000 cases of violence against women and girls were reported to the Ministry of Women Affairs (MoWA) from 33 provinces of the country in 2010-2012.

Afghanistan’s development is progressing within a climate of heightened political instability with the withdrawal of the international military presence in 2014 coinciding with Presidential elections. This has resulted in renewed fears around power sharing and growing social influence by the Taliban and the potential cost for Afghan women. It is therefore imperative that the international community and the Government of Afghanistan ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment receive the required attention during the transition period to sustain and expand the gains achieved.

For the current planning cycle of 2013-2017, significant transitional events will occur within the political and security arenas that could negatively impact women if interventions are not made to ensure their active participation. Ensuring women’s participation in elections, peace negotiations, and overall engagement in governance and government at national and subnational levels will help preserve gains made to date and create resiliency in those institutions responsible for Afghanistan’s gender agenda.

The UN Women Afghanistan Country Office released a report on 7 December 2013 documenting the accounts of women and girls who have experienced and witnessed widespread violence during the conflict from 1978 to 2008 at the hands of different perpetrators.



[i] UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index, viewed 1 February 2012
Women in Afghanistan, Hearing before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, House of Representatives, 112thCongress, First Session, May 3, 2011, P.26.
AusAid, Australia’s Strategic Approach to Aid in Afghanistan, 2010-2012.
Grace Jo. “Who Owns the Farm? Rural Women’s Access to Land and Livestock”, February 2005
UNDP, Human Development Report 2009 Afghanistan country fact sheet