EU must act and make a difference to lives of Afghan and Pakistani women

The EU must do all it can to stop the Taliban hindering womens' rights and opportunities across Afghanistan and Pakistan, writes Barbara Matera.

By Barbara Matera

08 Feb 2016

Women around the world face many challenges - equal access to education, domestic violence, the right to vote and active participation in public life, even respect for their dignity and life. This is especially true in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There, women find themselves in extremely dangerous situations, which are deteriorating as the Taliban expand their influence.

According to Amnesty International, Afghanistan is the second worst country in the world for mothers; 87 per cent of women experience domestic violence and only 13 per cent of females over the age of 15 are literate, compared to 43 per cent of males.

There are almost twice as many boys enrolled in school than there are girls and Afghan women earn 25 cents or less for every dollar men earn. Female political candidates are the target of 90 per cent of all threats against candidates, while targeted attacks against civilian women and children while they are on their way to work or school increased by 20 per cent in 2012 compared to 2011.


A report released by Oxfam in 2014 documenting 23 peace negotiation meetings with the Taliban since 2005 revealed than no women participated in any of the talks, despite the international community's commitments.

Additionally, according to a Wall Street Journal report dated 3 November 2015, a large number of female victims of the war in Afghanistan are being forced to live in poverty and abuse, due to the lack of a proper protection system in the country.

A UN report issued in February last year indicated that most widows of civilians killed in the war only received a small, one-off payment, rather than the regular stipend. More than one in four Afghan women who were interviewed said they experienced violence after their husbands' deaths.

The situation of women in Pakistan is another issue the international community has been particularly concerned about. Forced marriages, honour killings, forced conversions and the lack of substantial female participation in political and economic life are all issues which have remained largely unsolved by the Pakistani government.

On 20 January, a group of militants stormed Bacha Khan University, outside Peshawar, killing at least 21 people and wounding around 100. This incident followed the December 2014 attack on a military school, which killed 145 people - most of them children - and shocked Pakistani society.

However, the Pakistani Taliban appear to be intent on attacking every education institution they do not endorse, especially facilities that promote education for women and young girls.

There are many challenges, but the international community's determination - particularly that of the EU, with its development initiatives - can certainly make a difference in the lives of Afghan and Pakistani women.

Women need to be given the undisrupted right to voting; at the same time, education is extremely important and will help elevate the role of women in society. Social empowerment, employment and financial independence will further contribute to the sustainable development of women's place in society.

Europe has a responsibility to act, and every policy and development initiative in this area should focus on these women. We simply cannot allow a terrorist organisation and its supporters to hinder the progress women have made so far in establishing their position in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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