Women in Afghanistan face the most challenges in the world, according to a study by the Thomson-Reuter foundation, which was undertaken in July 2011.
Afghanistan has been placed on the poll as the 'most dangerous' country for women. This decision takes into consideration the human rights, education and security that women lack in the war-torn country.
A survey of 4,700 Afghan women, carried out in 2008, showed that 87.2% had experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence for example forced marriages, in their lifetimes. While 85.1% of women have no formal education,74% of girls drop out of school by the 5th grade. Only 1% of girls in rural communities attend school and 1 out of every 62 women die during childbirth, and in some regions the number is as high as 1 in 8.
There are many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Afghanistan that are trying their level best to help the women gain back their rights, however, the level of achievement that is being made is slow.
With life being so hard for the women in Afghanistan, even after ten years of the US invasion, questions are being asked whether any good has come out of this.
"When we say we have made some progress I always try to highlight or see these in comparison with the period of civil war and the period of the Taliban rule. If you compare that then we definitely have made some progress," says civil society and women's rights activist, Orzala Ashraf Nemat.
UK charity, Action Aid, carried out a survey of 1,000 Afghan women and found that 86% were worried about a return to a Taliban-style government, which meant a society where women had the least amount of rights.
"During the Taliban rule, no women were going to school. They were not even recognised as active members of the society, in the years of the civil war- but there has been a gradual reappearance of women now. In 2006, over 30% of the civil servants were women. But now, the numbers are decreasing because of the insecurity and the challenges women are facing to work," says Nemat.
The earlier mentioned UK charity also found that 72% of those surveyed felt that things had improved for them since the start of the war in 2001, in Afghanistan. In addition, two-thirds of the Afghan women surveyed said they felt safer now than they did ten years ago under the Taliban rule.
Despite the international military presence, people are complaining about what is still lacking in Afghanistan. The first and the most critical thing that especially women are vulnerable to, is security, according to Nemat. "Security comes first, even before health and education, because you can have the best hospital in the world, but if the road to that hospital is bombed or full of landmines, then you cannot go there," she adds. "I believe that women are more vulnerable in insecure situations than anybody else. Because if a man dies in an incident, in an Afghan family, he is the breadwinner of the family; so the women will suffer because of that. If a son dies, then he would have been the breadwinner. Therefore, in the end, it is always the women who suffer. A woman suffers not only for herself by being directly attacked or killed, but she also suffers for her family who are, or would be to be affected by war, as well as her concerns for the future."
"For us, security is not only about having an armed guard next to your door or more people in uniform going around and holding weapons. What we mean by security is much broader than only physical security. We aim for the feeling of safety and that ensures us at home, in the working environment and into the public sphere. For example, as women, if we are trying to get to a clinic, we will not be attacked. Or if, as girls, we are trying to go to school, acid will not be thrown in our faces. That is all that we want. We do not believe that guns and helicopters are the main forces that will ensure security in Afghanistan," says Nemat.
A difference in Afghanistan can be made by a miracle, it seems to some. But nevertheless, there are ways in which the situation in Afghanistan can be improved.
"Afghans should work for themselves, but that does not mean isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. We should learn to coexist but not let anyone come and interfere in our country and its businesses. It may be painful for a short time, but we are hoping it will not be dreadful in the long run," says Nemat, who devoted twelve years to establishing, assessing and delivering training programs in the field of education, legal protection and emergency assistance to Afghan women and children in refugee communities in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.
In my opinion, the unity of Afghans, whether living in or outside of Afghanistan, is the first and most important solution to every problem that is taking place in Afghanistan. If we, Afghans, do not consider each other as equal and as one nation, then how will we expect our beloved country to prosper with the help of other people. It's time we stopped labeling each other by their kawm (tribe) and language and start calling ourselves as one people and one nation. If we unite, then there is no reason for us to ask anyone else's help in developing our country and securing our women's rights.
Now the question is: What is the future of Afghanistan for women? Will the situation stay the same or will it improve as the withdrawal of foreign troops comes near. Will Afghan women stand up for themselves and fight for their rights? Only time will tell.
This article has appeared on Pashtun Women Viewpoint before.