Women in Afghanistan

Publised on the World Prout Assembly, by Christian Parenti, 28 November 2006.

Under the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were severely oppressed. The idea of their liberation was used to sell the Afghan war as a war of liberation. But the condition of women in the new Afghanistan is precarious at best. While the Taliban’s members were oppressive moralists who forbade kite flying and listening to music and, at times, the education of women, they did at least impose a type of simple law and order. The new regime, in contrast, is marked by general insecurity in which women are the most vulnerable group.

In Kabul many professional women no longer wear the burka, but many still do. In the countryside a severe version of purdah – the Muslim principle of secluding and protecting women – is so strictly enforced that many men never touch or see a woman other than their mothers or pre-pubescent sisters and cousins until well into their late 20s.


For most women the only thing that has changed since the fall of the Taliban is that there has been an increase in insecurity. It is common to read or hear reports of women being abducted by gunmen who rape and sell them. There is no functioning law and order in Afghanistan – NATO forces are too thinly spread and the local police are little more than uniformed criminals – thus women have almost no protection other than that provided by armed fathers, brothers and husbands.

One feature of post-Taliban life has been a rise in prostitution. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan claims that as many as 25,000 Afghan women worked as prostitutes just after the fall of the Taliban. Many, many thousands still do today.

Instead of dealing with the problem of sex trafficking and abuse of women, the Karzai government launched a highly symbolic crackdown on Chinese-run brothels in Kabul. In March 2006 the government raided 11 brothels and deported 47 Chinese women. The raids made for great political theater but did not really address women’s need for economic support and protection from predators …
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