It is vital that economic development programs consider the meaning of power for an Afghan woman, which means freedom from violence.
Afghanistan has extremely high rates of violence against women and girls, a situation perpetuated by a combination of impunity for offenders and the general acceptability of extreme unequal gender norms in the post-Taliban era. The poetry and stories of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project starkly illustrate the woven narrative of violence that follows from birth to death for women and girls.
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It’s true that tackling gender-based violence is strongly linked to improving the economic basis of women’s lives.
While men commit violence against women of all backgrounds, poverty can increase the risk. Without economic independence, women can be bound to violent domestic settings amid serious wider security threats.
But that does not meant that economic advancement programs will end gender-based violence on their own, nor should it mean that those programs should not try to address violence.
A New Gender Infrastructure
When Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban, between 1996 and 2001, systematic, instrumental strategies were implemented to omit women from public life, and as a result, the country’s economic development.
The Taliban is no longer in power, but serious challenges remain on both a societal and governmental level; with a recent analysis showing that the Taliban still threatens 70 percent of the country, its restrictions are far from a distant memory.
Today, there is international pressure on the Afghan government to rebuild the rights of women. This requires the construction of an entire infrastructure in which women and girls can freely exist – where they are able to get an education, travel freely and eventually earn a living, free from danger.
This is far from the case now. In November 2017, Kabul University veterinary student Zahra Khwarai killed herself by ingesting rat poison after her thesis was rejected for the eighth time by her supervisor. Her roommates had tried to take her to hospital, but they were not granted permission to leave the premises by the person in charge of the women’s dormitory, who claimed they did not have the required accreditation.