Women’s progress in Afghanistan must be irreversible
By Ainsley Butler and Nilofar Sakhi
All around the world, women’s economic empowerment is at the forefront of development debates.
Recently, fears have crystallized about a reversal of the opportunities Afghan women have seized in the last decade. These fears include a surge in violence against women, and a decline in rights.
Yet in the shadow of war, despite extreme poverty and inequality, and in spite of strong opposition, a group of Afghan women have found their place in Afghan public life and the private sector. Safeguarding the advances made by women in Afghanistan must be a priority for Afghan society.
More than at any previous time in Afghanistan, women are leading civil society organizations, have been elected to the houses of parliament, have become business owners, or have joined the workforce.
They have done so with the support of their families and communities. They have been motivated by experiences in education, by their desire to improve the lives of those around them, and by their dreams of a better tomorrow.
The majority of women say they have entered the workforce during the last decade in Afghanistan. Half of these joined the labor market in the last five years and just over a quarter entered between six to 10 years ago. This points to a positive and growing trend for a small but important number of women in Afghanistan, who are part of the active in the labor force.
Despite the fact that Afghanistan is one of the worst places to be a woman, Afghan women are one of the country’s most valuable resources for development, in a way that is culturally relevant and meaningful. Scaling the role of women outside of the home is critical to ensuring that progress for women and girls is irreversible. But there are worrying and well-documented signs that this advancement is fragile.
For change to truly take shape in Afghanistan, it must be lead by both Afghan women and men. Afghan families and their communities need support so that they may work toward sustainably creating the society that they want, based on equal rights.
You can read the Afghan Women’s Economic Participation Report here in English, Dari, and Pashto.
 Ainsley Butler co-wrote the 2013 Afghan Women’s Economic Participation Report. Nilofar Sakhi is the Executive Director of the International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development in Kabul.