What Factors Drive Support for Women’s Rights in Afghanistan?
At the annual World Economic Forum in Davos this year, global leaders got an opportunity that many never believed possible: they got the opportunity to hear an all-female Afghan orchestra perform on stage for its first-ever international performance. For Afghanistan—where music was banned under Taliban rule and the status of women has continually been undermined—the moment is significant.
Since the fall of the Taliban, measurable gains have been made for Afghan women in terms of their political participation, with women today even taking an active role in Afghanistan’s government and civil society: four of Afghanistan’s key ministries are led by women, a woman was nominated to the supreme court for the first time (although her nomination was later rejected), and four of Afghanistan’s embassies are run by women ambassadors.
But the overall status of women in Afghanistan remains persistently low. Women’s safety and rights in the country remain under threat. Research by Global Rights estimates that nearly nine out of 10 Afghan women face physical, sexual, or psychological violence, or are forced into marriage. Many will painfully recall in March 2015 when a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda was beaten to death by a mob on a false accusation of burning a Qur’an. Child marriage, which increases the likelihood of early pregnancy and heightens the risk of death in childbirth, remains common in Afghanistan.
Recent research points to potentially positive changes in perceptions surrounding women’s rights among Afghans. According to The Asia Foundation’s 2016 Survey of the Afghan People, 74 percent of respondents say women should be allowed to work outside the home, a 10 percent increase from the 2015 survey. Furthermore, four in every five respondents say women should have the same opportunities as men in education. Nearly 88 percent of respondents say that a daughter should be entitled to part of the inheritance from her deceased father, and more than half of respondents (56.9 percent) say that if women vote, they should decide for themselves whom to vote for, an increase from 50.1 percent in 2015.
What is clear from these statistics is that some Afghans support women’s rights more than others. So, what factors are associated with supporting women’s rights in Afghanistan?
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most important influencing factors:
The survey reveals that those who have some level of education are more likely to support women’s rights, compared to those with no formal education. Afghans who have a higher education (college or above) are more likely to say that women should have the same opportunities as men in education.
Stated acceptability of a daughter’s entitlement to part of her deceased father’s inheritance is high among respondents with some level of education compared to those with no formal education.
While Afghans’ support for women working outside the home has increased significantly since 2015, respondents’ views on the acceptability of women’s employment opportunities differ based on the respondents’ level of education. Again, we find that education is one of the strongest factors to explain Afghans’ views toward women working in various employments [see Figure 1].
The role of television
Television’s ability to deliver easily accessible audio-visual news and information from around the world makes it an important tool for shaping and directing public opinion. A comparison between respondents who watch television programs and those who do not, reveals that those who watch TV are more likely to support women’s rights than those who don’t. For example:
• Those who watch TV are less likely to agree with the practice of baad (the practice of giving away a daughter to another party as penalty or payment for an offence); 14.6 percent vs 29.8 percent, respectively.
• 79.3 percent of those who watch television programs say women should be allowed to work outside the home compared to 64.3 percent of those who don’t watch TV.
• Those who watch TV are more likely to say political leadership positions should be equal for both men and women (48.6 percent) compared to those who don’t watch TV (30.9 percent).
Gender and ethnicity
The survey findings also point to a link between respondents’ attitudes toward women’s rights and their gender. Perhaps predictably, women are more likely to support women’s rights compared to men [see Figure 2].
Being Pashtun correlates with lower support for women’s rights, while being Hazara correlates with higher support. For example:
• Support for women’s independence while voting is high among Hazaras (69.4 percent) compared to Pashtuns (46.7 percent).
• Those who are Pashtun are least likely to say they support women working outside the home (66.2 percent, a figure below the national level), while those who are Hazara are more likely to be supportive of women working outside the home (84.6 percent, a number above the national level).
• Pashtuns are less likely to support gender equality in political leadership positions (32.7 percent), than are Hazaras (57.1 percent).
The findings underscore the importance of investing in education and raising awareness of women’s rights as a way for the Afghan government to help shape opinions and views to ultimately create lasting improvements in the status of women in Afghanistan.
Fahim Ahmad Yousufzai is a policy and research program officer for The Asia Foundation in Afghanistan. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funder.