Afghan Women’s Rights: “Shaming Your Father”

Shinkai Karokhail

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series. In “Will History Repeat Itself?” our writer explored the history of women’s rights guaranteed in the Afghan constitutions.

In my hometown, if a woman goes to the court to ask for justice, everyone looks down at her.

Afghan people believe that women are not supposed to share their families’ secrets and problems, even if their rights have been violated. Many men in Afghanistan still believe that if a woman does something considered socially unacceptable, the family honor is broken and she should be killed.

When I was working in Afghanistan, many men told me that it was shaming to my father to send his young daughter to work. Men and even some women tried to stop me from working by harassing me and making fun of me and my family.

When I took public transportation to get to work, I always pretended that I was just going to visit a relative. People in my hometown believe that the highest a woman should aspire to is to be a teacher. They believe that women who work with government or a foreign agency are not good women because they talk to men.  

While Afghanistan has always been a conservative Muslim country, depending on who was in power at the time, the definition of women’s rights has ebbed and flowed over the course of history.  This was shown over the past eleven years as control of the country was shifted from the Taliban to President Karzai and the international coalition forces. 

In Afghanistan, the determination of the morality of a woman focuses upon such things as whether a woman has an education, how she dresses, who she marries, whether she may get a divorce, and even whether a woman must marry a man who raped her.

The pressures on women come from society and the government. If a woman does not follow society’s norms, it can be considered a “moral crime.” The government tends to uphold the views. Today almost half of Afghan women in jail are for “moral crimes.”

For example, women who run away from their home often are charged with the crime of intending to commit zina—sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Very recently, in October 2012, the Afghan government agreed not to consider running away a crime.

Moral crimes in Afghanistan should be analyzed by looking at both social and governmental points of view. If society and government don’t work together, this problem will never be solved.

The existence of the Taliban and their harmful practices makes matters worse and besides that, Afghanistan’s government is too weak to enforce the 2004 constitution. Very few women outside of the big cities get the benefits and the rights that the new constitution gives them. The rights for women in rural areas are still the same as during the Taliban regime.

Besides all of these restrictions by Afghan families and society, many Afghan women have managed to obtain positions in government. Some have run for office. There has been much progress in Afghan women’s rights and lives since the new constitution was written. More women have been taught about their rights and many Afghan women now ask for justice.

The new constitution gives national and international NGOs permission to conduct programs educating and helping Afghan women. Women have better access to healthcare and there are more female healthcare workers. The 2004 Afghanistan constitution in Article 83 requires women’s presence in our parliament as well as Wolesi Jirga (the House of the People). Nearly a third of the seats in parliament belong to Afghan women.

So, many people in Afghanistan are starting to understand women’s rights. Training local mullahs in some parts of Afghanistan and media training is having an impact. 

But whenever something new has happened in the history of Afghanistan, women have been the biggest victims.

Today, our government wants to negotiate with the Taliban. President Karzai announced in Washington on January 11, 2013, that the Taliban will continue to keep an office in Doha, Qatar to promote its negotiations with Kabul. I hope Afghan women are not the ones who will pay for it.

The Taliban do not even recognize Karzai’s government and the new constitution. During the six years of their regime, from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban had no constitution. The Taliban named their government the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It was the most restrictive regime in the history of Afghanistan. The Taliban took away almost all freedoms from Afghans and continuously violated human rights. At present the Taliban continue to block the use of the new constitution. They block women’s access to education.  Even today only about fifteen percent of Afghan women can read and write.

Throughout history, Afghan women’s rights have had ups and downs. Women have tried their best to stand up for themselves, and many brave Afghan women lost their lives helping women and their country.

Now Afghan women are trying again to change society’s views about women and they are having some success.

I hope that the next ten years will be a better decade for women. I hope that women will be able to keep the support of international communities and build on the last decade’s achievements and exercise their rights under the new constitution.

By Marzia

Photo of parliamentarian Shinkai Karokhail by Leslie Knott.


  1. Laura McGowan says:

    Marzia–very relevant article. I once read this quote, “I am the person I think YOU think I am.” This means that someone else has provided you with a mold or parameters for who you are and what you may become. You, as one of the pioneers and shapers for Afghan women’s rights, are shattering that preconceived mold that ALL Afghan women are forced into, and you are designing your OWN mold for who YOU want to be. As you become the CHANGE, younger girls will see you as a role model and DARE to dream about THEIR future in Afghanistan, as they continue to try and “change society’s views about women.” Thank you, and continue to WRITE ON! Laura McGowan

  2. I hope and pray that the next ten years will be a better decade for Afghan women, too, Marzia. But I understand your concerns, given how, as you say, with each change, it is the women who suffer. I think about the idea of a “moral crime” and how you are a “criminal” when you go against what society dictates. I sit here, and I could probably tick off a 1000 “moral crimes” I’ve committed, just by trying to be myself, and be free, and do what I want to do personally and professionally, but doing so without hurting other people–ideally even helping other people! But I’m sure I’m a “moral criminal” 1000x over! The idea that you must hide that you are going to work–when all you are doing is furthering your family, your community, and yourself by contributing in this way… I’m sorry that you must contend with all of that shaming. I pray for a day that women will not be shamed for actions that deserve no shame!

    Thank you for writing this, Marzia. I hope many people read your essay.

    All best,

  3. Marzia,

    May your hopes become a reality.

    Thank you for sharing.


  4. Elisabeth Lehr says:

    I have been reading through pieces on the site to share with my students about rights and education in Afghanistan. Your essay provides a very clear and straightforward discussion of Afghanistans, its history and challenges.


  5. Dear Marzia,
    Very well articulated. Thank you for such a thorough, thoughtful, informative piece on the challenges faced by Afghan women in the past and future. This line jumped out at me: Today almost half of Afghan women in jail are for “moral crimes.” It’s an astonishing, and very sad, fact that so many people can be incarcerated for crimes that are not crimes at all.

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