Afghanistan has been a nation plunged in political turmoil for more than three decades, with tensions taking a deep turn and greatly escalating in the year 2001 when the now historically infamous ‘war on terror’ was launched by the USA and its Western allies. More than ten years on, the social consequences of the bloodshed go beyond the civilian casualties reported in the media. For many Afghani women everyday life is mostly composed of war and the subsequent sufferings which most have no way of either physically or mentally escaping from. The inequality suffered by women and girls in Afghanistan is rigidly intact and one organization working to bring widespread public attention to this is the Young Women for Change movement (YWC).
As a highly patriarchal society, the women of Afghanistan have no input into how their lives are to pan out, this role instead being rested in the hands of men – fathers, husbands, sons and brothers. Marriage is one aspect of life in which the power of the patriarch is seen and has to be acknowledged. The incidence of arranged and many a time forced marriages is high in Afghanistan, upon which the woman will become a possession of her husband’s and acknowledged as such by all. This is a man in many cases she does not know, and many fathers in their drive to secure a husband for their daughters, take to placing younger girls in the hands of older men. Disharmony and the male’s need to ensure that his woman will always be under his command lead to marital abuse and domestic violence, figures for which are seen to be very high. The woman is effectively imprisoned within the home, where she has no purpose but to serve her husband. She is becomes a possession that he owns. Due to the huge amount of violence some women are subjected to, they voice their wish to obtain a divorce, a very brave move.
However, there is no hope for them, as a divorce can only be asked for with the approval of the husband and a further witness. This leads many to make attempts on their lives, with most succeeding. One such case is that of Sabira, a 17 year old with child who after a year of marriage burnt herself, the case was found and reported by YWC.
As well as these restrictions upon older girls and women once they marry, younger girls are shown they should have no future hopes or dreams, by being denied the right to school and an education. This campaign has intensified as the power of the Taliban has grown, giving way to acts such as the attack on 15 year old Malala Youfsafzi, who was shot in the head for campaigning for the right to an education in Pakistan, a story that made worldwide headlines. Education is a means of empowerment and the Taliban possess a very strong understanding of this, leading to injustices such as not allowing youngsters to be educated even where education is available.
With war and the actions of other Islamist groups, such as the ongoing terrorist activities in Mali engulfing the minds of world leaders once again, these dire and persistent issues such as the role of women slips into the background.
The Young Women for Change campaign, an Afghani women’s initiative set up in 2011, is now working to readdress the issue and gain Western support to make considerable reforms. A growing movement, they have already carried out a milestone event; the first ever anti-harassment street march in Afghan history, and continue to protest for and empower women, using modern technology such as setting up a website and enabling young women to be blog contributors and tell their stories.
Amnesty is working to make this issue a leading campaign; you can inform yourself of the work of this amazing organisation by visiting their website, or by coming along and showcasing your solidarity with the cause and all Afghani women by visiting the Wall of Solidarity event on the 2nd February to show your messages of support.