Before the War

Blog , 2015-05-14

Before I started working for ARZU, I myself knew little about Afghanistan beyond what I read in the media and what friends in the service told me of their time there. For the past decade, the entirety of my adult life, I’ve only known Afghanistan to be a place of war and repression. Since beginning my job with ARZU, I have begun to learn of Afghanistan’s history and the complicated intricacies of its struggles.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the future landscape for women was irrevocably altered. A series of coups, the Soviet occupation, war between Mujahedeen groups and the government during the 1980s and 1990s, and the subsequent rise of the oppressive Taliban regime in the mid-1990s ultimately stripped women of their basic rights (1).

Under the Taliban strict enforcement of Islamic Sharia law, women were banned from (2).

  • Going to school or studying
  • Working
  • Leaving the house without a male chaperone
  • Showing skin in public
  • Accessing healthcare delivered by men (with women being banned from education and work, healthcare access is virtually inaccessible)
  • Being involved in politics or speaking publicly
  • Participation in athletics

The state of women’s rights in Afghanistan was not always so dismal. Prior to the Taliban regime, life for Afghan women was exceedingly different.  Any American woman who has been educated on the American suffrage movement knows that women gained the right to vote in 1920, but what may be surprising to many is that Afghan women received the right to vote at the same time. The Afghan constitution even provided for equality for women (3). In several ways, the accomplishments of Afghan women surpassed those of American women:

  • 1977: Women comprised 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body
  • 1990s: 70% of school teachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women (4).

In a strikingly powerful image, these side by side photos taken of women in Kabul in the 1970s and in 2012 shared by Facebook group Afghanistan Before the Warprofoundly shows the stark contrast Afghan women have faced in a few short decades. Afghan Women Photo

The more I look, the more I find inspiring articles in the media about the progress, however slow it may be, for women in Afghanistan. Women opening coffee shops so that other women may gather, the Afghan women’s cycling and mountaineering teams, stories from the field of men who are overwhelmingly supportive of their wives’ and daughters’ work and education. These are the stories I chose to read more of now, and less of suicide bombers and military strikes.

I see progress moving women towards the status they previously held in Afghanistan, status they rightly deserve. ARZU works to contribute to that progress with ethical weaving jobs and providing access to education, healthcare, and community for the women and their families.

Stay tuned for our series of articles on the issues women in Afghanistan face, what programs ARZU works to build to assist women, what the results of our work are, and how you can contribute to the progress with a donation or purchase of a rug or Peace Cord©.

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