By: Nathalie Gondek {CHRV Volunteer)

After a decade of international initiatives, many Canadians believe that women’s rights in Afghanistan have improved substantially. Today is the time to really reflect on the facts.

Under the recent Taliban regime, the lives of women were unimaginably degraded: they were unable to leave their homes without a burka and a guardian, unable to work, unable to go to school, even unable to access healthcare services when sick or pregnant. And punishment for not obeying such regulations opened the door for physical and sexual brutality against women.Under the interim government established in 2001, there has been a continuous international effort to strengthen women’s rights. As a result, women are now much freer to live their lives. So many girls can now go to school. And health standards have improved substantially.

But the picture is nowhere near perfect. Thousands of women are still repressed by the practices of the past, especially in rural villages, which make up most of the Afghani landscape. The national code of conduct still states that women ought not to travel without male guardianship. In all cases of domestic abuse, the woman’s voice is still silenced. No woman can testify against her husband, and many lose their property and childcare rights if they pursue arbitration. Women belonging to certain religious sects are still restricted in their lifestyle choices, simply in virtue of their system of beliefs. More than 50% of Afghan girls are married or engaged by age 10. Only one in 20 girls attend school beyond the sixth grade. The vast majority of women are still illiterate. Widows are left to struggle without learned skills, resources or support. And the situation could still get worse. There have been talks reconsidering stoning for adultery, a charge most often placed against women.

This Saturday, the political sands of Afghanistan will shift once more, as the presidential and parliamentary election unfolds. A significant amount of new female voters will be coming to the polls. Several candidates are women, and 20% of the new legislature will be female.Understanding just how much lives in Afghanistan have “improved” is crucial to understanding what this event means for women’s rights all over the world.

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