Why Its Still Not ‘OK’ To Be A Girl

New Frontier, Old Problems: An Uncertain Future For Women's Rights in Afghanistan, Courtesy of National Geographic

Whenever Britain reaches a morbid anniversary of our time in Afghanistan or a new death milestone as more and more troops are thrown on the battlefield with armour little more advanced than the average London riot shield, politicians and commentators emphatically insist we are there ‘for the women’.

Despite the rather dubious provenance of this justification, as at the time is was supposedly an attempt to rout out Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, the rhetoric states it has brought about nothing but improvement in the lives of Afghan women as Westernised values seep into the country.

However, whatever American and British propaganda may tell you, Afghanistan is still not the best place to be a girl.

The continuing guerilla presence of the Taliban is normally what captures international focus on women’s rights as their frequent attacks on girl students and their schools capture the world’s attention. The negotiations between NATO forces and the Taliban received intense scrutiny from human rights organisation Amnesty International at the end of 2011 with their campaign to ensure women’s rights were not used as a bargaining chip in the peace talks. The Taliban have now suspend negotiations with the USA because of their ‘ever changing position’ but the continuing focus on the seemingly unending struggle with the Taliban neglects the serious challenges women face in mainstream Afghan society.

Over the past eleven years there have been huge strides in not just women’s, but human rights generally in Afghanistan. With discrimination legislation, access to education and healthcare and the beginnings of a (sort of) democratic system it appears to Western observers that on the surface their mission has been successful in creating a lasting legacy of freedom in the country. Men and women are declared equal under the Afghan constitution and there is a quota of a quarter of all seats in government reserved for women which was exceeded in the elections of 2005 and 2010.

Nevertheless, the cultural war is still far from over. Afghanistan still remains divided along tribal lines, rife with corruption and before the arrival of the Taliban in the late nineties; suffered years of civil war, invasion by Russia and the rule of tribal kings. Its currently ranked 150th in the world for press freedom , 1.4 on the report published by Transparency International in 2010 where 10 is most clean and 0 is most corrupt and 181th for maternal mortality(out of 181).

What people often forget is that although the extremes of the Taliban were rejected by mainstream Afghan society a large part of its attitudes to women were almost as repressive as the group’s and some have even become more radicalised by the speed of Western attempts at change.
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