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Sharp Sword of Culture in the Head of Afghan Women

Sowieba Abedi

Source: PBS

Afghan women are slaves in a male-dominate culture. Even now in the 21st century, they haven’t got access to the most basic human rights. Here, women are sold like goods, they are tortured and raped as seen recently in the Sarpul province. It is as always shocking news. Sometimes their bodies have been cut, like Rakhshana and hundreds more women and girls like her. But above all, women are being removed from society. These obstacles are creating an exhausting period for Afghan women to live though.

Importantly, this is not only a political issue but has roots in the misunderstandings of religion and medieval culture. Cultural barriers have a significant impact on the political absence of women in Afghanistan. Afghan women are struggling to take ownership of their heritage, education, freedom, and even the choice of what to wear. Afghan women struggle against the cultural barriers of society alongside their fight for equality in politics and economics.

Our own experience shows that political and gender discrimination will change with the change of regimes. But the gender discrimination we face in Afghanistan involves deep-rooted cultural barriers which require hard work to overcome and take a lot of time. I want to clear this matter with an example. The people of Afghanistan had a government that politically believed in gender equality in the last 20 years. It did a lot of work for gender equality, however, the cultural barriers remained and these goals ultimately failed.

There are some situations which prove the impact of cultural barriers on gender discrimination in Afghanistan. Before 2001, women's situation in Afghanistan was awful. But then, with the political transformation we experienced, hopes for equality and omitted discrimination came alive. The Bohn agreement of 2001 established the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) as a national human rights institution to protect and promote human rights and investigate human rights abuses and war crimes. Additionally, the 2004 constitution of Afghanistan promised equal rights for men and women - including women being permitted to work outside the home and engage in political activity.

Despite these efforts for the betterment of gender equality, women’s situation today has not improved. Of course, women in Afghanistan have been promoted to have some equal rights since 2001. But these changes only happened in the biggest cities, like Kabul or Herat. These changes were not afforded to all provinces or districts of Afghanistan - even under the Republic Government. Afghan women don’t ever forget Frakhanda or Rakhshana’s stories which are repeated over and over again these days among the oppressed girls of this society.

Inequality between men and women is an institutionalised matter in the culture of Afghanistan. Illiteracy and poverty have also played a role in this unequal culture. The basis of this culture of inequality can be seen in these cases:

  • Traditionalism: tribal and medieval culture accompanied by the misunderstandings of religion, present the largest obstacles preventing the education of girls and women. It is clear in most eastern or southeast provinces of Afghanistan that women receiving education is considered against the religion of Islam.

  • The Absolute Rule of Male Thinking: in Afghanistan men have a decisive social and political role. Men have always been at the top and women have not been given the opportunity to make decisions and have leadership roles. We have had very few examples of women in the field of political and social leadership in the last 20 years.

  • Lack of Access to Education: this matter is the most significant for women which have not received any information on their rights. Women’s rights and gender equality remain a sweet myth.

The Afghanistan government could not change the minds of Afghan people about women's equal rights in society. Despite the various promises from the government of Afghanistan, the United States and the UN to implement the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, the participation of women was not clear in the peace process with the Taliban since June, 2017. In addition, it is clear now, that the Taliban’s return to power has been eliminating women from all sectors of our society. The current situation of Afghan women is the biggest shame for the UN, especially Human Rights Institutions like the HRC. Because Afghan Women have been violated by the Taliban administrations since they took power in August 2021.

The Taliban has implemented cruel orders against women which they justify by claiming their orders are in accordance with our culture and derive its legitimacy from our cultural values.

Against these cruel orders men are silent. The Taliban is preventing teenage girls from returning to school and unfortunately we have not seen a large protest where the Afghan Men stand with girls and raise their voice with them. The Taliban also closed the doors on university for girls, blocked women from working in most sectors, ordered us to wear face coverings in public, and barred women from travelling alone. But where is the voice of men to help their sisters and daughters?! It seems these cruel discriminations without Taliban policy have other deep roots. Our society has no more tendency for gender equality or even girls' education, it is for cultural issues. If we speak about the tendency of Afghanistan people in gender equality, we should not consider only Kabul or other big cities. We must pay attention to all 34 provinces. Unfortunately, there are so many people who actually want gender discrimination. Illiteracy and poverty have been affecting their minds. Above all, if our society and culture were not cruel and propelled gender discriminations, the Taliban could never order this.

In the end, we have two big responsibilities; firstly, we should strongly struggle to take our basic rights from the cruel and terrorist regime of the Taliban. Secondly, a more important responsibility is to keep working to change the views and minds of Afghanistan’s people and get them to rethink their cruel culture against women. This is how we can prompt political transformation, just like we had before. But culture issues cannot change easily. So, we should work hard for human rights, especially regarding gender discrimination in Afghanistan. We must start our rights struggle from cultural issues which have a high impact on gender discrimination and must not repeat our mistake again. We must have hope for a better future - equality and social justice in Afghanistan.


Sowieba Abedi is a hopeful Afghan girl who is voluntarily teaching Afghan girls who can’t go to school. She was born in Badakhshan province and grew up in Kabul City. Sowieba is a graduate of International Relations with excellence from Kabul University in 2022. She joined the General Directorate of Human Rights and Women’s International Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. Sowieba intends to study world politics and continue writing about social justice and discrimination in Afghanistan.



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