How has the role of women in Afghanistan changed in the past 10 years? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The context of the question refers to life since U.S. led- Coalition forces entered Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power. The question that arises from this is whether or not the United States' intervention has altered the lives of women in Afghanistan.Like so much in Afghanistan, there is no clear answer to this question. It's difficult to gain a full understanding of the answer because the question varies from place to place in Afghanistan. A case can be presented that women's lives have improved since the removal of the Taliban.  Yet, an equally compelling case can be made that women's lives have not changed since the removal of the Taliban.  

Certainly, there is a case to be made that the removal of the Taliban improved the lives of women in Afghanistan.  Most of this case resides in the urban centers.  In these nodes where the Taliban was able to enforce so many of its edicts regarding women, change has been evident:

Life was looking very different from the ordeal they were living through when we last met... Women were working again and not wearing burkas [traditional long black robes] in the offices. Girls’ schools had reopened, and the students were trying to catch up what they had missed.

Many of the lives of women in urban centers have changed for the better with the removal of the Taliban.  It is not that surprising to note that foreign aid and assistance impacted the urban settings first.  This helped to transform the lives of many women in these areas.

At the same time, a case can be made that women's lives were not necessarily changed.  The argument here follows two distinct lines. The first is that the United States and its Coalition forces viewed victory in military and political terms.  The liberation of women was not the primary goal of the invasion as much as capturing key Taliban and al- Qaeda operatives.  Since this was the fundamental goal, Coalition forces made deals and arrangements with many of the tribal leaders in the rural regions to accomplish their political end.  These deals protected tribal leaders and in the process, paved the way for some of the greatest examples of women's repression. The Taliban were extremely popular in the rural regions in large part because the view of women took on a very reactionary form.  The desire to seek political victory in Afghanistan helped to facilitate agreements that denigrated the cause of women's rights.  At the same time, many point to the fact that the lives of women in this part of the nation have not changed:

 Reconstruction is crippled, political progress is nonexistent and human rights abuses are piling up. . . . What progress there has been is now threatened. . . . Girls’ schools have been attacked, and girls threatened and harassed on their way to classes.

One need only be reminded that Malala Yousafzai was protesting the condition of girls and women and spoke from a rural perspective.  In trying to obtain an education, she was shot.  Being from a rural area and embodying much of what rural women endure, the argument is that the desire for political success trumped the liberation of women. In some regards, just as the Taliban viewed women as a means to an end, those in the West who used the cause of women's rights to gain political favor without doing anything substantive about it are guilty of the same manipulation.