At present, the female literacy rate stands at 13 percent, one of the lowest in the world, with only 5 percent of them making it to secondary school

Although a number of laws have been put in place to improve the lives of Afghan women, there are still significant obstacles to overcome; the road to independence appears to be a long and challenging one.

Many women are turning to suicide in order to escape the violence they face. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where suicide rates of women outnumber those of men.

According to UNIFEM, Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous and restrictive places to be a woman and an estimated 87 percent of women are victims of domestic violence.

“If this is indeed true, it is due to the 30 years of war that has instilled and molded violence in the lives of the people in Afghanistan,” Shakila Hamidi, program manager at Women for Afghan Women, told MediaGlobal. Women are especially vulnerable in areas of armed conflict.

The most common forms of abuse include forced and child marriages, physical and sexual abuse, honor killings, and badd, the tradition of giving away girls to settle disputes. According to UK-based charity, Womankind, between 60 and 80 percent of Afghan marriages are forced, with more than half of all girls married before age 16.

Furthermore, women are subjected to repression, isolation, and enforced ignorance.

At present, the female literacy rate stands at 13 percent, one of the lowest in the world, with only 5 percent of them making it to secondary school.

Christine Ouellette, country director for UN Women listed a number of reasons for violence such as illiteracy, weak rule of law, limited access to justice, harmful traditions, and poverty. “Since 2001, the life of women has changed, but Afghan women are still experiencing violence and it takes time to change,” she said.

Circumstances for women vary depending on their tribe, province, and family, but overall, Hamidi says that the majority of women have no power over their decisions.

“There are very educated women who serve in the parliament, host television shows, teach at schools, and run their own businesses,” Hamidi notes, but she is quick to point out that they make up a tiny percentage of Afghan women.

“Many women have only known the power of man, living in their nuclear family where the father was supreme and when entering a marriage the husband had the upper hand,” said Hamidi. “A woman who cannot choose what happens in her life and who also has limited freedom is a recipe for disaster. When looking at the bigger picture, the lack of women’s rights leads to the instability of a country as a whole.”

Hamidi is convinced that education is critical for improving the circumstances for women in Afghanistan. First, she looks at the women themselves, “Through education, women are being taught how to take the right steps in ensuring freedom and working towards reaching positive goals,” she said. Then she criticized Afghan men for their role. “An educated man knows very well that if he works with his wife and educates her well, stability in their lives is promised.”

“If you educate a woman, you are educating her family, her village, her province, and eventually, her country,” Hamidi promoted.

While the abuse women are facing may not be as easy to quantify as physical war injuries, the impact it leaves behind seems to be just as tragic.

Although issues of surveillance, control, and violence are present within the entire nation, these are particularly acute for Afghanistan’s women. Exposing women to violence and stifling their education and development hinders the growth of the country. Progress is slow when half the citizens are left behind.

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