The Vicious Cycle of Women’s Rights Violations in Afghanistan and the Need for Accountability

The enduring impact of prolonged conflict has severely strained the social, political, and economic fabrics of Afghanistan. Among the least documented yet most distressing aspects is the plight of Afghan women historically. Despite the historical variations of ruling ideologies there has been one common ground: Violations of women’s rights with full impunity, and their continuous suffering.

Afghan women have endured immense hardships, exacerbated by prevailing social biases and discrimination that further compound the consequences of these conflicts. Moreover, Afghanistan, particularly outside major urban areas, continues to be deeply rooted in a patriarchal society, where religion and intricate tribal norms and customs dictate social interactions. These religious values and cultural codes and patterns significantly shape the roles and status of women in Afghanistan.

Through a comprehensive and thorough examination of the underlying causes of gender-based violence against women in Afghanistan, the researcher has illuminated a notable aspect—the continuous struggle between traditionalists and modernists The majority of traditionalists, residing in rural Afghanistan, hold profound respect for an ‘old normal’ which consists of age-old norms and harmful entrenched traditions that are mostly in non-conformity with the contemporary approach to governance. On the other hand, the modernists, primarily concentrated in urban areas, persistently endeavour to replace traditional norms with a legally endorsed new normal and new paradigm that aligns with human rights and modern governance principles. Consequently, Afghan women who have been historically burdened by the weight of entrenched traditions are also shouldering the substantial load of this ongoing struggle.

This research underscores four key themes and their respective sub-themes, contributing to the complex nature of the ongoing struggle. These themes—1) Socio-cultural Norms, 2) Religious Misinterpretations and Misconceptions, 3) Ideological Politics and Political Expediency, and 4) Impunity and Lack of Accountability—serve as the foundational factors behind the infringement and violation of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Moreover, this study highlights two distinct yet interconnected cyclic patterns that perpetuate various forms of women’s rights violations, further embedding and deepening them in Afghan society. These patterns are categorized based on their characteristics as 1) Circular Viciousness of Women’s Rights Violations, and 2) Vertical Viciousness of Women’s Rights Violations.

RWI’s Afghanistan Programme was established in September 2021, in cooperation with, and with funding from, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

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