Afghan women: an uphill struggle for legal rights

1 February 2011

Golalei Safi Nur, Member of the Afghan Parliament, said this was a good time for women in Afghanistan – there were many women working, girls going to school, and women were active in government and business. But, because of poverty, many women do not have opportunities to study at school, because they need to survive.

Women have equal rights with men under the constitution but the country is still very traditional and male-dominated. There is also positive discrimination for women in some jobs, but there needs to be more. Women in Afghan need help from countries where women have achieved more.

Josef Janning, Director of Studies at the European Policy Centre responded by observing that, under the Soviet regime, many women were trained in a wide variety of professions. When Afghanistan seized the opportunity to change politically, there was a sizable constituency for an active role for women in society, mainly centred round Kabul. That generation of professional women was extremely active from the start, because they were best equipped to take positions in professional life, and wanted to be involved in public life. 

Afzal Nooristani, Lawyer and Executive Director of the Legal Aid Organisation of Afghanistan (LAOA) gave an introduction to his organisation. Founded in 2006, LAOA provide legal services to people who are in conflict with the law, focusing mainly on children and women who do not have access to legal counselling. Sharia family law discriminated against women, and the new civil law enables them to exercise their rights. There are unresolved security problems, which is the main obstacle to women fully practising their rights.

Hayatullah Ahadyar, Judge at the Primary Court of Counter Narcotics in Afghanistan, talked about positive aspects of Afghanistan, in contrast to the negative picture painted by the media. He outlined the basic needs of Afghanistan judges, many of which are being supplied by the international community, as:

  • basic salary;
  • security;
  • housing;offices and furnishings;
  • training.

Bettina Muscheidt, Political Desk Officer for Afghanistan in the European External Action Service said this was one of the most remarkable panels addressing women’s issues in Afghanistan that she had seen in four years. It was good to see women’s issues connected to the bigger picture, because often they are viewed in isolation. She said that international pressure is important – emancipation comes at a tremendous price to Afghan women, who are abused, threatened, intimidated and killed.

The EU is engaged in helping improve the Afghanistan judicial system - contributing to the drafting of the national justice strategy, and helping improve the legal profession and legal aid. The gender issue is promoted through mainstreaming in all EU programmes and human rights projects.