AFGHANISTAN BRIEF COUNTRY PROFILE
1. LAND AND PEOPLE:
- General Facts and Statistics:
- Name: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
- Area: 652,864 sq. km. (249,935 sq. mi.)
- Capital: Kabul
- Population: 27,657,145 (2016 est.)
- Natural resources: Natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones
- Land use: Arable land 12% Permanent pastures 46% Forests and woodland 3% Other 39%
- Major religious, ethnic, and linguistic groups
- For centuries, Afghanistan has been a mosaic of people with diverse cultures, religions and languages. Afghanistan’s ethnically and linguistically rich and mixed population reflects its location at the crossroads of Central, South and Southwest Asia. Communities with separate religions, languages, and ethnic backgrounds have lived side by side for generations. Afghanistan still remains a country of dynamic diversity.
The main ethnic groups are Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq, Baluch, Nuristani, and Kizilbash.
Pashto and Dari are Afghanistan’s official languages. Afghanistan’s Constitution stipulates that all other languages are “official” in the areas in which they are spoken by a majority of the population.
Afghanistan is an Islamic country. An estimated 80% of the population is Sunni, following the Hanafi School of jurisprudence. The remainder of the population is predominantly Shi’a.
Religious minorities of the country include Hindus, Sikhs, and a small community of Jews who have left the country during the decades of war.
Women in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, prior to the Soviet occupation and Taliban takeover, was a relatively liberal country with a progressive outlook on women’s rights. Afghan women made up 50 percent of government workers, 70 percent of schoolteachers and 40 percent of doctors in Kabul. However, the effects of war and the Taliban regime quickly effaced the rights of women in public life and relegated them to solely the domestic domain. In 2001, with the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghan women were once again able to enjoy some of the freedoms that had been stripped from them. In particular, the education and health sector have provided greater access to women and advanced their social development in an emergent state.
With the fall of the Taliban, women have been able to reenter schools and universities. In fact, girls composed a third of the nearly 9 million children who returned to school this year. Women have also started serving as teachers and faculty members again, and are filling political positions and participating in the national elections.
The health sector is working hard to improve the lives of Afghan women, and male physicians are now allowed to examine and treat female patients. However, while women can see male doctors, the availability of clinics and hospitals is nonetheless limited. Only 15 percent of births in Afghanistan are attended by qualified health professionals, thus contributing to the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world; one pregnant woman dies for every 6 live births. Besides pregnancy-related deaths, a lack of sanitation and potable water has led to outbreaks of tuberculosis, among which 64 percent of the deaths are women. Continued efforts in the health sector will be pursued to provide women with advanced healthcare and promote their well-being.
Afghan women have suffered through war, poverty, famine and violence, but with the help of the international community and the Government of Afghanistan, they are reemerging with even stronger voices for change.
The new government’s immediate priority was to develop a program of bold reforms to lead Afghanistan away from instability and dependence and towards peace, productivity and the realization of its untapped potential. Advancing women’s economic empowerment, protecting their human rights, and creating safe public space for women are important elements in reaching that goal. Below are some key achievements to date of the government’s plan to empower, include, and uplift women in government, society, and the economy:
(Photo by NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan)
- Increased Number of Women in Governance
- There are already more women in senior government positions than at any other time in Afghan history.
Ministries have begun to issue and implement ministry-specific gender and workplace policies; for example, the Ministry of Finance increased hiring quotas for women and partnered with USAID and the American University of Afghanistan to provide higher education scholarships to female middle management.
- 31 out of 34 new provincial governors have been appointed, 2 of them are women, the most fe-male governors the country has seen.
- The National Solidarity Program is the government’s national rural development program, im-plemented in 85 % of rural communities across the country through village-level Community Development Councils. The national annual conference of Community Development Councils was held in Kabul in 2015, where women constituted 34% of council members, filling leadership and decision-making roles in their local communities.
- Advancements in Peace and Security Measures for Women
- The government has launched its action plan for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, which is now in implementation over a 5-year period to assign staff and financial resources for protecting women from violence.
- The Ministry of Interior is halfway towards its goal of recruiting 5,000 female police officers to increase security personnel to serve women across the country. There are also 11 training centers for women police officers around the country.
- Increased Opportunities, Services, and Fairer Systems of Justice for Women
- The President has issued a decree ordering the review of all cases of women detained on accusa-tion of so-called moral crimes. Out of 402 women detained, 255 have already been released.
- The President introduced the first Afghan woman as Supreme Court judge, after engaging the Ulema to release a Fatwa condoning the nomination. The nomination however did not pass the vote in the Parliament. A new female candidate will be nominated.
- In order to prevent the imprisonment of women accused of running away from their family, the President recently asked the Supreme Court to issue a ruling on the application of article 130 of the Constitution that has been the basis for the courts’ decision to sentence such women. In De-cember 2015, the Supreme Court issued a judicial ruling that bars judges from imprisoning women for running away from family. Running away from home is not defined as a crime by law, but sentencing had resulted from a misinterpretation of a constitutional provision—this has now been stopped.
- An anti-harassment regulation for improving the working environment for women in the public sector was approved by the Cabinet in September 2015. The regulation has been issued based on Article 16 of EVAW Law and consists of 4 Chapters and 14 Articles and will review complaints related to harassment; support victims of harassment, prevention of harassment; and provide opportunities for women in employment and education.
- On January 31, President Ghani and First Lady Rula Ghani inaugurated the country’s first Trust Fund for Victims of Violence against Women, by making the first donations to the fund in a ceremony at the Presidential Palace. President Ghani also announced that all members of his Cabinet have promised to donate 15 % of their January salary to the Fund. The Fund supports women who have suffered from violence.
- The National Priority Program for the Economic Empowerment of Women was approved by the Human Capital Development Council and a formal request sent to Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) to launch its design.
- A working group of the government has started planning for a women-only university that will be run and operated by women. The project was launched in January 2016 by First Lady Rula Ghani. The National Unity Government has allocated free land for this institution and the Turkish government has committed funding. Ground will break for construction in 2016.
- The Ministry of Public Health convened the Breast Cancer Prevention and Advocacy Campaign with the support of First Lady Rula Ghani in October 2014. Afghanistan’s first outpatient department designated for cancer diagnosis has been opened in Kabul. Furthermore, the Afghan government recently allocated land for a hospital dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.