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VII. Denial of Basic Freedoms to Women and Girls

While women are specifically targeted for abuse by soldiers and police because of their sex, they also experience a wide range of discriminatory treatment, much of it reminiscent of the Taliban era.

Because women and girls are targets, they suffer severe restrictions that are not imposed on males. In many parts of the country, these restrictions compromise the most basic freedoms of women and girls: to seek education, to seek lifesaving health care, and, in some cases, even to leave the walls of their family compound.

This section documents these additional violations of the human rights of women and girls, including the rights to liberty of movement, to education, and to work. It also addresses the requirement of the burqa. Violations of women’s right to freedom of expression and political participation are also discussed in the sectionabove “Attacks on Political Actors and Political Activities.” The abuses described here also flow from the violence and intimidation against women who advocate on behalf of women’s rights.

Almost every woman and girl whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said that her life had improved since the Taliban were forced from power. The Taliban, which controlled most of the country by 1996,banished women from the public sphere and stripped them of power in the private sphere.293 Taliban decrees prohibited women from working outside the home and traveling in public without a mahram (husband or close male relative) and strictly enforced the requirement that women wear the burqa.294 Women and older girls risked being beaten on the streets of most major cities for showing any part of their bodies, even by accident, for wearing the wrong kind of shoes or socks, or for making too much noise walking. Women were barred from university and almost all girls’ schools were closed. The level of repression varied in some areas and at different periods of time, but until its demise in late 2001, the Taliban strictly enforced most of its restrictions. [295] One human rights group described the Taliban’s restriction on women’s rights as “one of the most deliberate forms of discrimination against women in recent history.”296

The Taliban’s interpretations of Islamic law were foreign to much of Afghanistan’s people, especially those in urban areas, and many Afghan women and men considered the Taliban’s reactionary codes to be anachronistic and cruel.297 When Taliban rule ended in late 2001, many people within and outside of Afghanistan considered its collapse to be a “liberation” for Afghan women and girls, and for the population at large. There was much hope that Afghan women would soon enjoy freedoms and rights denied to them under the Taliban.

No one expected the situation to change overnight. The rights of Afghan women and girls have been a contentious issue in Afghan politics and society for most of the last hundred years, while, for the most part, Afghan women themselves have been sidelined from public discussions and decision-making about their rights and role in society.298 During the twentieth century, limited attempts by Afghanistan’s male leaders to impose social reforms affecting women’s rights contributed to political tensions and even revolutions. In 1929, King Amanullah’s government fell soon after he tried to impose strict new social reforms, including the abolition of purdah (separation and veiling of women) and the establishment of coeducation.299 Thirty years later, in 1959, then-Prime Minister Mohammad Daoud alienated religious conservatives with his attempt to abolish purdah and force new social reforms.300 (After he took power in a coup in 1973, he continued some of his attempts at reform.) In the late 1970s, when Soviet-backed communist leaders pushed new reforms including forced coeducation and the elimination of the “bride-price,” male rural leaders responded with open revolt, contributing to the Soviet Union’s decision to invade Afghanistan in 1979.301 Much of the rhetoric of the opposition to the Soviet occupation—the “jihad”—was couched in terms of “protecting” women from communist forces bent on destroying their purity and their Islamic values.302

When Afghanistan’s formerly Soviet-backed government collapsed in 1992 and the government of the Islamic State of Afghanistan (a loose coalition of mujahidin parties) was installed in Kabul, decrees were announced instructing women to observe hijab—covering of the head, arms, and legs.303 Local commanders in other cities announced similar decrees. Most of the urban female workforce continued at their workplaces but felt increasingly vulnerable to violence and attacks on their autonomy, which were linked to political instability.304 Women in rural areas and returning refugees also faced restrictions.

Many of these mujahidin leaders are now back in power, both in the central government and as local commanders. Thus, the fears of Afghan women today stem not only from ongoing abuses, but also from the memory of abuses committed by current rulers when they were previously in power. One woman in a rural area explained, “We are afraid because we remember the past.”305 Many women told Human Rights Watch they were worried about the future and fear that if warlords take full control of Afghanistan’s government, protections of women’s rights could worsen.

While the abuses of women and girls in the southeast are severe, abuses are not limited to this geographic area. Human Rights Watch has documented serious human rights abuses of women and girls all over Afghanistan since the Taliban’s fall.306

A Note about Culture and Women’s Rights

In discussions of women’s rights in Afghanistan, it is often heard that restrictions on women’s and older girls’ liberty of movement, access to education, political participation, and privacy, including the right to choose whether to wear a burqa, are cultural, or that they are part of Afghan tribal codes or religious traditions. But when soldiers and police abduct and rape women and girls with impunity, and where these actions have the effect of denying them access to education, health care, jobs, and political participation, women and girls are not experiencing “culture.” They are experiencing human rights violations.

While it is true that cultural codes can be a powerful force in Afghanistan, such codes are not comprehensive, unchanging, or monolithic. Afghanistan is made of up people of many diverse cultures, with varying attitudes and different histories of treatment of women and girls.307 Even in rural areas, many people, and especially families from the Hazara communities, have traditionally valued girls’ education.308 During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and particularly during communist times, increasing numbers of urban women worked in government and business and attended school and university.309 Some women and girls who fled to other countries also enjoyed better access to education. Some women adopted western dress and removed their headscarves entirely; some participated in politics.310 While these trends were not mirrored in rural areas and among many sectors of society, they help explain why many Afghan women have expectations for greater freedom in the future.

Many families told Human Rights Watch their female members could not go outside alone because of security, not cultural or religious, concerns. Many mothers and fathers told us they valued girls’ education. Many men who told us that insecurity was a barrier to girls’ education had previously educated their girls in Pakistan or Iran. We also interviewed women who said they wore burqas in areas where they felt insecure or where they believed the armed men would require it, but chose not to wear one in Kabul. These discussions suggest that, in many cases, what appear to be cultural issues may in fact also be entwined with human rights violations. The effect on Afghan culture of twenty-three years of war and ongoing targeting of women and girls should also be acknowledged.

Basic International Legal Standards

International law provides all individuals, male and female, with the rights to freedom of expression, association, and movement; to equality, work, and education; and to privacy, sexual autonomy, and bodily integrity, including freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Afghanistan's 1964 constitution, which under the 2001 Bonn Agreement is in effect until another constitution is approved, guarantees all citizens “without any discrimination or preference . . . equal rights and obligations before the law.”311

Discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).312 Afghanistan is a party to each. CEDAW, which Afghanistan ratified on March 5, 2003, defines discrimination against women as:

any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.313

CEDAW requires states to “refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation”; and to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women.”314 It also requires that states “take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.”315 In addition, Afghanistan is a party to the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, which provides that: “Women shall be entitled to hold public office and to exercise all public functions, established by national law, on equal terms with men, without any discrimination.”316

Specific Abuses of the Human Rights of Women and Girls

The following sections detail some key areas in which the human rights of Afghan women and girls are being abused, including their rights to freedom of movement, education, health care, and work, and the right to freedom from discrimination in the enjoyment of these rights.

Liberty of Movement

When women are afraid to go out in the street, they can’t take advantage of the theoretical freedoms that are now available to them.317

—Gender expert, Kabul

I have ten sisters. . . . None of them can go to school. I don’t know why—up until now there have been problems for them. . . . from the gunmen. They stay inside all the time.318

—Eleven-year-old boy, Paghman, Kabul province

The ICCPR guarantees liberty of movement without discrimination on the basis of sex.319 The Human Rights Committee, which interprets the provisions of the covenant, has found that states must protect women, especially, from private as well as public interference with the freedom of movement.320 The Committee has also found that “measures preventing women from moving freely . . . by requiring them to have the consent or the escort of a male person constitute a violation of article 12 [the right to liberty of movement].”321 Afghanistan’s 1964 constitution states that: “Every Afghan is entitled to travel within the territory of the state.”322

Many of the abuses already described in this report, such as kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, and extortion, have devastating consequences for the liberty of movement of women and girls. These abuses severely restrict their ability to leave home, seek education, access health care, visit family members, buy food, or to do anything else that requires leaving their compounds and moving in a public place. If women cannot move freely within their communities and country, their ability to participate in their country’s public life is limited. This necessarily undermines any attempts to ensure that women are able to play their full role in the country’s political life, including in shaping the new constitution and actively participating in the 2004 electoral process. It also calls into question much of the success claimed by the international community in liberating women from the Taliban. While the de jure discrimination and limits on freedom of movement and dress of the Taliban have largely ended, life for too many women and girls in Afghanistan remains replete with similar, de facto restrictions.

Liberty of movement for a woman or girl depends on a variety of factors. These include the degree of actual danger faced when she leaves her home, her and her family’s perception of that danger, traditional teachings that women and girls should not challenge the decisions of male family members, and the Afghan state’s failure to protect women and girls from violence, threats, and discrimination both inside and outside of the home.323

Human Rights Watch interviewed some women and girls, especially in Kabul, who enjoyed considerable autonomy and liberty of movement. Some women said they enjoyed more autonomy when they were in Kabul and less when they were in rural areas. One woman from Paghman district noted: “We can go with the men to shop in Kabul but not to Paghman town. If we want something from Paghman, the men will bring it.”324 Even among these women and girls, some families imposed conditions on them, such as wearing a burqa and taking an escort.

In Kabul, liberty of movement depended on the access to adequate public transportation in some cases. Poor public transportation disproportionately affects women and girls. Walking long distances is more likely to expose them to physical danger because they are targeted for their sex. They cannot ride bicycles. Very few can drive, even in Kabul. One Kabul university student explained:

To get to university I walk to the bus stop and then take the bus to the university, which takes about thirty minutes. A taxi is very expensive. . . . There are two doors on some buses, one for men and one for women. But [the buses are so full and infrequent] that men go in through the ladies’ side. For the buses with one door—all the women students are standing on the steps and sometimes fighting with men sitting in the front seat. One time I waited for the bus until 4:30 p.m. even though I left class at 12:30 p.m. This may be the only reason I haven’t taken off my burqa (chadori)—because I stand for hours at the bus stop and come early in the morning, and there is the fighting and pushing to get on the bus and your hair is standing on end. Inside the university it’s only teachers and students, but outside there are the shopkeepers and I don’t feel comfortable taking off my burqa and standing two or three hours outside waiting for the bus. . . .

It’s like a chain—it’s all connected. We have security but the rest is not O.K. Maybe lots of women want to take off their burqas and go to school or work but they have other problems so they stay at home.325

Many men, women, and girls said that violence and targeting of women and girls were primary factors affecting their liberty of movement. A woman who had returned from Pakistan to West Kabul said: “In Pakistan, women could go freely to the office and schools, but here women have problems with going out, for example, with going to the university. . . . If we have security, then we won’t be afraid and we can go freely alone like in Pakistan.326 A Paghman man explained: “We know our situation here. So when a girl or a woman goes out here, always a man accompanies her, so that this sort of incident, kidnapping, does not happen. It is for security that we do this.”327

In several instances, women and girls told Human Rights Watch that they had, in fact, initially enjoyed some freedoms after the Taliban fell, but that those freedoms were short-lived because of security problems. One woman told us that she stopped driving in Kabul after armed men whom she believed to be connected with the police physically attacked her in her home.328 A woman in West Kabul said: “I don’t go out—well, sometimes to visit family. But [my] family does not allow us [women] to go out. . . . Because of [the attempted kidnapping of a Hazara girl by the police March 2003] they think something may happen.”329 A girl whose house in West Kabul was robbed by armed men (whom she believed to be soldiers under one of Sayyaf’s commanders, Tofan) explained why she and her two sisters rarely left the house:

Of course we want to learn something. We want to go [to school], but because of these problems we cannot go out. . . . Sometimes my brothers go out, and of course one of us cannot stay home alone. We cannot go alone even to the street. Someone else has to go. . . . We are afraid and cannot go out alone by ourselves.330

In rural areas, not all women are subject to identical restrictions. For example, in one of the more isolated villages in Paghman that Human Rights Watch visited, we interviewed a seventeen-year-old teacher who was able to walk several kilometers to her class, accompanied by another girl, during the day, even though she was young and unmarried.331 According to women in the village, they did not have problems from armed men because they were so isolated: “We don’t have problems because we are far away. The thieves would have to [go] a long way. We know each other and we have nothing for thieves to take.”332 However, the same women also said that if they left the village, they had to wear a burqa, that most women and girls could not come and go freely, and that they could not attend a school outside the village.333

In Ghazni province, U.N. officials reported that women and girls in Hazara communities generally enjoyed much greater liberty of movement and access to education compared with women and girls in other areas.334 In Ab Band district in Ghazni province, for example, the officials said that many Pashtun women could not leave their compounds at all, other than to bring water—not even to visit relatives—and in some Pashtun and Tajik villages, girls were not allowed to attend school.335

In Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar, and Nuristan provinces, U.N. officials reported that women’s and girls’ liberty of movement, especially from Pashtun communities, was severely limited in both rural and semi-rural areas.336 And in cases where women or girls did leave their homes, they were exposed to greater physical danger. For example, in Dawlatshad in Laghman province, U.N. officials reported that several women had been raped or kidnapped by armed men while bringing wood from the mountains.337

One of the many effects of denying women and girls liberty of movement is diminished access to the limited health care that is available. While both men and women are regularly denied access to health care in Afghanistan, the situation for women’s and girls’ health is especially dire. According to UNICEF, one in six women in Afghanistan are expected to die in childbirth, and the infant mortality rates in Afghanistan are the second highest in the world.338 Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women and girls are dying each year from lack of access to medical care—nationwide an estimated 87 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.339 In this context, the impact of insecurity on women’s and girls’ access to health care is especially serious.

Paghman and West Kabul residents told us that armed men on the roads and long distances to hospitals and health clinics outside central Kabul kept them from seeking needed medical care at night. For example, as detailed above, in March 2003, police fromKhart-e Now neighborhood in Kabul city arrested and ransomed a taxi driver when he was returning from taking a pregnant woman to the hospital late at night.340 According to a resident, the man owned one of the few cars in a Kabul neighborhood, but after he was arrested, he became too afraid to transport sick people at night.341

A man originally from Paghman district told Human Rights Watch that the inability to reach health care was one reason he could not take his family back there: “There are no health services. It is very difficult to get to the city quickly when someone needs to get to the hospital. The road is not safe to take people to the hospital in Kabul. Even if a woman is in labor, they could rob you.”342 Another man, also unable to return to his hometown in Paghman, confirmed: “[In Paghman], if a pregnant woman needs to deliver her baby, she cannot reach the hospital and she may lose her life. They may be robbed on the way to the hospital at night. Even with the women in labor, they might be robbed—the gunmen are that uneducated.”343

Another Paghman resident said: “At night, no one dares to drive from here to Kabul or from Kabul to here. It is very, very difficult. But there are no health services here, so in an emergency, what can you do? If you try to hire a driver, he will not go.”344 His friend confirmed: “One night, my brother’s wife injured her hand very seriously. We tried to get the drivers to go to Kabul, but they would not go. We went to the doctors—the doctors were afraid to go out and would not come. Finally, a doctor who knew us came and helped.”345

The Right to Education

First, we wish the girls who live in the provinces would have schools—not just grades one through five at most. Second, we wish that they would collect all the guns from the men with guns, so girls can go out and go to school. Third, we wish they would talk with families—girls are interested but some families won’t let them go out.

Yes, people are afraid of what would happen from the armed men if they allowed their girls to go to school. Of course they are afraid of men with guns or other groups.346

—Women students at Kabul University

Many girls have gone back to school in Afghanistan: about 32 percent (1,140,178) of the estimated 3,608,146 children enrolled in school in 2003 are girls, according to UNICEF.347 Still, millions of girls—many more than the number currently enrolled—are not in school.348 UNICEF reports that in some areas the participation rate of girls is as low as 3 percent.349

Human Rights Watch has found that older girls face particularly imposing obstacles to pursuing an education. The Taliban barred many of these girls from school when they were younger. Today their families are more likely to keep them out of school than their younger sisters because armed men are more likely to target them for sexual violence. Human Rights Watch visited large households where no girls over age twelve attended school.

U.N. officials report that in some villages in Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar, and Nuristan, girls over age ten are not permitted to attend.350 A woman living in rural Paghman told us:

We want our daughters to learn something, but during the Taliban regime we couldn’t even move. . . . Our [older] daughters want education. The want to go to study, but the men do not let them go out. . . . The small girls go to school but not the ones who are thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.351

Many families told Human Rights Watch that they couldn’t send their older girls to school because of security problems. Men said that they feared female family members would be kidnapped or assaulted if they left the home. While this was true in many places we visited, it was not the case in all. And in several instances, some families allowed their women and girls to study while their neighbors did not. Many women and girls confirmed that their fathers and husbands would allow them to study if they could do so without leaving the family compound.352 Human Rights Watch visited several privately-run schools, where older girls and women were studying for the first time, which were created inside village homes so girls would not have to go outside.

Continued Problems with Girls’ Access to Education

There are now some 4,000 formal schools in Afghanistan,353 but many children still lack access to schools. Where schools do exist, limited resources are not always used to provide the same facilities and classes for girls as for boys. Even in Kabul, where there are more resources generally, the policy of strict sex segregation is having an impact. According to one teacher:

Qanooni, the minister of education, says that all classes shall be separated, and even separate schools, but we have only one school. There are two principals—one for boys, one for girls. Teachers are male and female, but this year they are saying that men cannot teach the girls—but women can teach the boys. Now we still need to find two women teachers to teach Islamic studies. These were . . . subjects that [last year] men were teaching to girls.354

An additional and related factor is that when schools are far away, girls are disproportionately affected because parents are less likely to allow them to walk long distances.355 This is especially true in dangerous areas. A man from Paghman explained:

I have a daughter who is seven years old. The school is far, so she cannot go. . . . If you send your daughter to school, people will say, “She is a young woman, why do you send her?” Many people don’t like it. The authorities don’t like it. . . . My daughter cannot walk around here without chadori [burqa]. If I lived in Kabul, I would send her to school.356

The interplay of security and access is evident in the statements of men from Paghman who feel they cannot take their families back to the area. “In Paghman, we do not have schools, we do not have water, and we are afraid to send our girls to school,” one man said. “Recently, [an NGO] established a school in Paghman, but it doesn’t have the capacity to educate all the boys and girls, only boys for most grades.”357 Another man told us: “I have sisters, ages eight and nine and ten. They go to school. I also have a fourteen-year-old sister. Whether she can go to school depends on security. If the security improves, maybe she can go, if they build a school. But without an improvement, she will not go.”358 A man who felt that he could not yet move his family from Kabul back to Paghman explained:

Now, the principal problem in Paghman is insecurity and lack of schools. . . . My friends who live in Paghman are afraid to send their daughters to school. My aunt for instance—she will not send her daughter to school. She is afraid. Her daughter is afraid. She cannot send her six- and seven-year-olds to the school that does exist. . . . And the teenagers cannot go—there is no school for them.359

In the eastern region, including in parts of Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar, and Nuristan, long distances, a lack of schools, a shortage of female teachers, and an influx of returning refugees contributes to girls’ participation rates being “extremely low,” according to U.N. officials.360 In Jaghori district, Ghazni province, girls must walk an average of thirty minutes and boys fifteen minutes to schools held outdoors and lacking school supplies.361 In Moqur district, Ghazni province, there was reportedly only one girls’ school.362 In the Pashtun areas of Qarabagh, Ghazni province, girls were not permitted to attend school, and few boys attended because the nearest school was around a forty-five minute drive away.363 In the district’s Hazara areas, classes were held outside.364

Effects of Abuses by Troops and Police on the Right to Education of Women and Girls

Physical Violence by Troops

Men and women singled out the threat of physical violence by armed men as a significant impediment to sending girls to school. For example, men living in Paghman told Human Rights Watch why they felt that they were unable to send any of their girl children to school:

The armed men create trouble—they do not respect other people’s honor and dignity. It is very difficult for us if someone else looks at our daughters or sisters with bad eyes, and tries to touch them. It is unbearable. We have seen what they do. And because we have seen what they did—that they kidnapped that western woman [see section above, “Rape”]—we do not dare to send our daughters or sisters to school. . . .

It wasn’t like this in Pakistan. For instance, in Pakistan, women and girls could go to the bazaar, we had no fear for this. They could go to school. They could go outside alone.

My sister was in school in Pakistan, and this guy’s [pointing to friend] daughter was in school in Iran. Now the security is not good, because of the fear of the armed men. So we cannot send our sisters or daughters to school. And we cannot afford the expense of getting a house in Kabul, so they will remain uneducated here.

What’s the use of trying to send them to school when they might be dishonored?

My sisters were in fourth and sixth grade when we left Pakistan, and now they are older, so we have to be cautious because they are older girls.

The armed men [here] are with Sayyaf. They are with Sayyaf’s people. The governor is Sayyaf’s man. If anyone says anything against anyone to the governor, the governor will only accept what Sayyaf says, no matter what anyone else says.365

A farmer in Paghman explained:

First, these things are dependent on the personality of the local people, whether they want to send the girls to school or not. But those who do want to send the girls to school face all sorts of problems from the armed men. If a family does want to send girls to school, they have to keep in mind that the girls might be dishonored. Why? Because there are armed men who have no fear of God or fear of other people. They rob, they enter into houses, they loot, and they touch women.

The question about girls and women going to school is complex. There are money issues— inability to pay is a factor. People here are poor, you know. They are busy farming. They have nothing, and they cannot send their children to school.

But then there are armed men. Look—these people, these armed men, have been busy with war for a long time; war with the Russians and then war with themselves. Now they are addicted to war. Their lives are dependent on war. They had their incomes before, and were passing their luxurious lives by receiving extraordinary incomes from war, by looting and thieving.

Now the fighting is over, and because they are addicted to drugs and are drunk on them, they have nothing except a gun in their hands, and when they see a girl outside, they may do something wrong.

Therefore, people do not feel safe to send their girls to school or their women outside. We heard of this German woman, who was kidnapped and raped by these same armed men. People hear these stories and they do not dare to face this type of misfortune.366

According to another Paghman man:

There is no security, there are lots of robberies, and there is a lot of gambling and immoral activity. We cannot send our girls and women to school because we don’t feel safe sending them. And when you do not feel safe, life is difficult. I assume you are aware that sometime, a while ago, a German woman came here, and was kidnapped. . . . So you see what the security is like.367

In Jaghori district in Ghazni province, in late 2002, families were reportedly reluctant to send their girls to school because soldiers connected with Hezb-e Wahdat had kidnapped girls on their way to school.368

Even in Kabul city, armed robbery and fear of kidnapping by police have made families withdraw girls from classes in West Kabul. A teacher in a private institute told Human Rights Watch that after police allegedly attempted to kidnap a girl on the street during the daytime:

All the people were afraid because of that and couldn’t walk freely. About six or seven girls stopped coming to the classes after that. Some came for a few days and then stopped, so we asked why and they said that their families won’t allow them to come again because of this incident. . . . I have about seventy students total in two classes. Now about ten girls don’t come. Up until now they haven’t come back. . . . [After the attempted kidnapping], the girls came to us and said, “We cannot come anymore.”369

According to the teacher, “Everyone thinks about themselves and their own good, so when something happens to a girl, all the families say to the girls, ‘Don’t go out because this may happen to you.’”370

As described above, Human Rights Watch also interviewed three sisters in West Kabul who said that their mobility was greatly restricted and they were unable to go to school because heavily armed soldiers had robbed their home at night.371

A journalist from Jalalabad told Human Rights Watch that he believed that one reason girls’ enrollment in higher education in Jalalabad was so low was because “women do not feel safe. . . . Few women go out of their houses.”372 According to the journalist, in April 2003, there were eighty girls in the Medical Institute of Jalalabad city, out of 2,000 students, and only ten girls enrolled in Jalalabad university.373

A Kabul university student from Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, told Human Rights Watch: “There [in Kapisa], girls are not allowed to go to school and have problems with their families. Of course we have problems with the gunmen and just because of that they don’t want girls to go out and go to school.”374 And a student from Tagab district in Kapisa said of her home village: “The family and the girls want to study, but they are afraid of the gunmen and other people who are not from the village.”375

Police Harassment in Private English Language Institutes in Kabul City

There are numerous private English language institutes in Kabul city, many with coeducational classes. Private classes play an important role: the regular school day is not long; all students, but especially girls, are making up for time lost to displacement, war, and the Taliban; and during the winter the private classes are the only form of education available. Nevertheless, teachers and administrators reported that Kabul police and security officials regularly interfere with classes, harassing teachers and students. According to one teacher:

Police and security officers are always disturbing the teachers and students, and then they go home. They come and intimidate the teachers: “If I see you next time talking with girls then you will see what will happen.” . . . Every day they come for one or two hours, checking. They wear soldiers’ uniforms. They are middle-level police officers from the district police station. This is a big problem for the girls. When they see these things happen to their teachers, they are afraid and stay home. . . . They started doing these things about three months ago—disturbing the students and teachers. The officers are coming to find out who is sitting with the girls. Some follow the attractive girls outside. When the girls don’t want to talk with them, and then when they see them talking with their teachers, they do these things to the teachers.376

A school administrator told Human Rights Watch:

The police are from Shar-e Now district police station. They usually come in the afternoon around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. and come every two to three days, about three or four persons. They also have weapons. If somebody comes with weapons, of course the students are afraid. They are saying to boys in the class, “Why are you studying with girls? It’s not possible for you. You should not sit with girls.” They are telling students this as well as teachers. They usually come to the office and sit for a while. Then they go inside the classes and talk with teachers and students. They stay about fifteen or twenty minutes. This started about two months ago.377

Another teacher confirmed: “Most of the police who come to the school wear Amniat[-e Mille] clothes. Like the army—camouflage. When we see a person with these clothes we are afraid, because maybe he is a person who will harass us.”378

According to witnesses, in early March, in a private English language school in Kabul, a uniformed police officer beat a male teacher whom he saw speaking with a girl student during class. A witness told us that the police officer objected to the teacher speaking with the girl and accused him of being “against Islam.”379 Then, the witness said, the officer slapped the teacher and punched him in the nose.380 Another witness described what happened: “Police took him out of class and beat him. . . . I saw him beaten. They punched him in the nose, and while it wasn’t broken, there was blood and he had pain for two or three days. . . ‘Why are you talking with the girls?’ they said. He said, ‘This is a class and a school and there is nothing wrong!’”381

Witnesses told us that after police officers began harassing students and teachers, and beat the teacher, some girls stopped coming to the school. “When the teacher was beaten, I had some students who didn’t come after that,” a teacher told us.382 Another school employee confirmed:

Our students are afraid about this matter. . . . Some students didn’t come to the course after that because they said that it was not safe here. Every day police are coming here and creating problems. . . . Now some students are too afraid. Some are coming and some are not coming. Some students told their families what happened, and they said not to come because there are a lot of problems with security. Both girls and boys stopped coming here because of security problems.383

Officials from one school reported tried paying two security officers to be stationed regularly at the school to keep out the rest. According to a school official:

Security officials were here for five or six months, but this just caused new problems because they could come here freely and disturb things so it was better to have none, and we told them to stop coming. Now they don’t come, and we don’t allow anyone to come in. . . . We had to pay their expenses— about 1,000 afghanis [U.S.$20] a month. There were two soldiers. It wasn’t official—we just paid them unofficially. They themselves were a problem.384

Fundamentalist Attacks on Schools

In some parts of Afghanistan, access to education is further impeded by an environment of resurgent, violent fundamentalism in which schools, teachers, students, musicians, and others have been threatened or physically attacked. In some areas, government authorities have tried to increase protection of girls’ schools; in other areas their response has been more muted.

In some areas, soldiers and police are enforcing fundamentalist restrictions. In Wardak, a government official told Human Rights Watch that government authorities were involved with the men carrying out the attacks.385 In other areas, armed groups explicitly opposed to the current government are attempting to enforce fundamentalist restrictions. But regardless of their source, the school attacks are part of the context of general insecurity that is impeding all children’s, but especially girls’, access to education in certain areas.

In Ghazni, Kabul, Kandahar, Logar, Sar-e Pul, Wardak, Zabul, Jawzjan, and Laghman provinces from August 2002 to June 2003, there have been more than thirty attacks on girls’ and boys’ schools in which educational materials, tents, and building have been burned or bombed, according to reports collected by Human Rights Watch. School attacks often coincide with the anonymous distribution of threatening documents—locally called “night pamphlets”—in mosques or high-traffic areas. These night pamphlets warn parents not to send girls to school or threaten Afghans working with the government, with foreigners, or with so-called infidels.

In many places in Afghanistan, the school term runs from Persian New Year (Nawrooz) in late March through November or December. Some attacks took place during months that school was not in session, although intercessional classes were being held in some areas where attacks took place. Although most of the attacks have been on girls’ or coeducational schools, at least seven boys’ schools in Kandahar were physically attacked in early 2003.386 Many schools have reopened after being attacked, and many teachers and girls told Human Rights Watch that they would continue despite threats. However, others have been deterred.

A list of attacks, not comprehensive, is provided in an appendix to this report.


The right to education is set forth in a number of international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ICESCR, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and CEDAW.387 Fundamental to the right to education is the state’s obligation to provide it in a non-discriminatory manner. Afghanistan’s 1964 constitution also provides that: “Education is the right of every Afghan and shall be provided free of charge by the state and citizens of Afghanistan.”388

Security problems like those documented above can be a source of ongoing violations of women’s and girls’ right to education: first, because they keep children from going to school, and second, because they allow a discriminatory system to exist, one in which it is harder for women and girls to go to school than it is men and boys.

The right to education itself is considered a “progressive right”—in other words, Afghanistan is required “to take steps . . . to the maximum of its available resources” to the full realization of the right to education.389 The prohibition on discrimination in education is more absolute: it does not depend on available resources.390 In other words, regardless of resources, Afghanistan is required to provide education “on the basis of equal opportunity,” “without discrimination of any kind irrespective of the child's . . . sex. . .”391 As part of meeting this obligation, the government of Afghanistan is obligated to take immediate measures to minimize the discriminatory impact of security problems that prevent girls from going to school.

While international law permits the maintenance of separate educational systems or institutions for girls and boys, these must “offer equivalent access to education, provide a teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard as well as school premises and equipment of the same quality, and afford the opportunity to take the same or equivalent courses of study.”392 However, in a post-conflict society where resources are extraordinarily scarce, maintaining a segregated system necessarily uses additional resources that might otherwise have gone to improve the education of both boys and girls.

One of the many effects of denying girls the right to education is that the ability of women and girls to receive health care is impaired. In some areas women are not permitted or may not be comfortable seeking medical care from male health workers; therefore, educating female medical staff is crucial.

Control of Women’s and Girls’ Dress

Most Afghan women and girls, especially outside of Kabul city, are not free to take off the burqa. In many areas, this is because police and soldiers are targeting women and girls. Women and girls and their families fear they would be in danger if they were to go out without the burqa. In some areas, soldiers and other armed men are actually enforcing fundamentalist rules and targeting women. In Jalalabad, Kabul city, and Laghman province, government officials are also policing other aspects of women’s appearance.

Almost all women and older girls in southeastern areas outside of Kabul wear burqas. The burqa (also called chadori) is a floor-length garment that entirely covers the face and body. The wearer sees dimly through a small screen in front of the eyes and has no peripheral vision. Although the garment is less pervasive in Kabul city, the majority of women and older girls there wear one as well. Unlike during the Taliban when such practices were not possible, some women wear the front panel rolled up away from the face, and some wear a large scarf which covers the head and upper body but which leaves the face exposed.

Depending on the area, the wearing of the burqa can be imposed by soldiers, by government officials, private individuals in the street, or families. Women themselves may elect to wear it; however, many women in burqas told Human Rights Watch that their decision on this issue was motivated by the fear of harassment or violence, and thus was not a meaningful choice.393 Many women whom we interviewed said that given a free choice, they would never wear a burqa. Many expressed great frustration that women who they thought would clearly choose otherwise, for example, a “university professor” or a teacher who “studied in Bulgaria,” would be forced to put on a garment she despised in order to get to work.394 One woman said, “I hope one day all women can remove the chadori [burqa], and the government will say you can remove it. The scarf is O.K. but the chadori is not good.”395 A nineteen-year-old teacher and student explained: “I don’t wear chadori. When I wore it, it gave me a headache and made my hair weak and gave me problems with my eyes. We are Muslim and we wear a scarf over all of our hair and not more than that.”396 One teacher said her supervisor was encouraging her to remove her burqa, but her husband was afraid “fundamentalists” would harm her if she did.397 “Of course I would choose a small scarf instead of the chadori because it is difficult to wear it when you have books, children, bags,” she said. “In the winter it’s not so bad, but in the summer it’s really hard because it is so hot.”398 This teacher knew, separately, a colleague and a cousin who had each removed the burqa but who had each put them back on after unknown people threatened to kill them in Kabul in late 2002 and early 2003.399

Every woman from Paghman living in Kabul whom we interviewed told us that she put on a burqa to visit family in Paghman because she feared armed men. One family told us that they had to purchase burqas in order to go—that the women did not otherwise wear or even own them. A woman explained:

In Kabul I don’t wear burqa or chadori, just a small scarf. But in Paghman I have to wear chadori. . . . We go with men to Paghman—with our husbands, brothers—and they say that we have to wear it. We don’t want to create problems for them. The soldiers will do things to the men, not to the women. They would say, “Why are your daughters not wearing chadori?”400

According to another: “I go for visits [to Paghman], but I wear a chadori there because of the security situation. Sayyaf doesn’t let girls or women go without chadori. . . . I hear from everyone who goes and comes from there. We are afraid because we remember the past. I don’t wear chadori in Kabul.”401 A third woman noted: “I wear a burqa or chadori when I go to Paghman because the situation is not as good as it is here. Because Sayyaf’s rule is that women cannot go out like this—without chadori.” When asked how she knew it was Sayyaf’s rule, she explained, “[b]ecause he is from the past—everywhere he has been like this. He has not changed. He will say what he has said in the past. We can see it. He will not allow us to go without chadori.”402

Women living in Paghman confirmed that women and older girls must wear burqas there. “We have to wear chadori if we go to the center [Paghman town],” one woman explained. “Without it the armed men will create problems for us.”403 Another woman in rural Paghman said, “Now we wear chadori. From the moment we step outside the gate we have to wear it.”404

A man from Paghman living in Kabul assessed the situation as follows:

My point of view is that the gunmen are the minority, but they have the guns and the power. They do not let the educated people and the ordinary people meet. Ordinary people want schools and the good life, and want to live as they wish. But armed men are imposing a certain way of life on the people. For example . . . my friend here, his wife is educated. If she goes [to Paghman], she might wear appropriate [Islamic] clothes and not the burqa, but the gunmen won’t let her. If she refused to wear a burqa, they would first intimidate her, and if she persisted, she would be killed.

Now women cannot go there [to Paghman]. Educated women do not dare to go there. And if they go, they will definitely wear a burqa. For instance, we went there to Paghman to visit, and before we all went, we all went to the bazaar and bought burqas.405

A Kabul university student from Tagab district in Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, also told Human Rights Watch: “We wear chadori there but not in Kabul.”406

In Kabul, some women also said they or others they knew wore a burqa for security reasons. According to a teacher: “Here [in this central Kabul neighborhood] we have security, but in some places [in Kabul] there is not complete security, and families think that because of this they have to keep the chadori.”407

One teacher in Kabul said some girls put their burqas back on after police allegedly attempted to kidnap a girl near her school:

I don’t wear chadori and don’t have problems because of that. Some students wear it and some don’t. Those who stopped coming [because of the attempted kidnapping] used to wear a small scarf, but some who came back to tell us that they couldn’t come anymore were wearing chadori. I asked them why, and they said they were afraid and had to wear it. About ten girls came to tell us that they couldn’t come. . . . It was like during the Taliban. They were afraid and were wearing chadori. Now they are afraid of the Tajiks [policemen] and are wearing chadori. . . . The teacher asked, “Why are you wearing chadori?” They replied, “The family said, ‘If you go out you should wear chadori. We are afraid and you must wear chadori.’”408

Some Kabuli women said that they chose to wear a burqa to go to work and to school because it protected them from harassment, allowing them to move more easily around the city.

In Jalalabad and Laghman, some government officials have forced women to wear burqas. The head of Jalalabad’s Education Department, Abdul Ghani, forbade women teachers from wearing lipstick and nail polish, from appearing in public with men, or going outside without a burqa.409 According to one person familiar with the government system in Jalalabad: “He has threatened women working in the Education Department and female teachers that if they are seen without a burqa in the bazaar or outside of school or their homes, he will beat them with his own hands.”410

Women teachers and school administrators reported that Abdul Ghani visits girls’ schools and harasses teachers about their appearance. A former teacher said:

He came to our school and abruptly asked, “Why have you used lipstick?” I told him “It’s my lips and it is none of your business!” He got angry and insulted me and [verbally] attacked my father and said, “You are the daughter of a father who has left his country and now you have developed the same characteristics.’”. . . He was not only dealing rudely with me but with all other teachers, too.411

Another teacher reported that he said to her, inexplicably, “Your eyes are green—you are very shameless.”412 According to another: “He is an anti-woman man, and he should be removed. He came to our school. . . . He aggressively attacked me verbally and questioned me why I used nail color. He said that praying is forbidden with nail color and God does not accept prayers offered with nail color.”413

Two women whom Human Rights Watch interviewed told us they stopped teaching because of Abdul Ghani’s policies towards women. “I left teaching at school because Abdul Ghani was acting like a bad father with us, who presumes he knows everything and the children know nothing,” one woman said.414 “He was telling us not to participate in social activities, to avoid getting involved in politics, and to get permission from him in everything. I was a [teacher], and I wanted to be dealt with like a human being. The main reason for me abandoning teaching was his attitude.”415 According to another, “I was afraid of [Abdul Ghani], and when he came to the school, I would escape to try to avoid him. . . . To be honest, I personally left my teaching job —the profession I like the best—because of Abdul Ghani.”416

In early May 2003, Haji Omar, a Laghman province provincial administrator, reportedly told another government official he would kill a certain woman unless she wore a burqa in government meetings. According to the woman:

A few days ago, [a government official] told me to be careful and advised me to attend all the meetings with a burqa, so that my face would be covered in the meeting. He advised me not to unveil [take off] my cover during in the meeting and confidentially told me that the administrator, Haji Omar, had told him that, “he would kill you, by shooting a bullet into your temple.”417

Armed men in Jalalabad have also used the threat of violence to force women to wear their burqas with their faces fully covered. One woman reported:

Let me tell you! A friend of mine told me two days ago that she was in an isolated street where there were no people or shops; therefore, she unveiled her burqa [rolled up the front panel] and walked that way because it was hot. After a while, a pick-up truck loaded with armed men—mujahidin—came up from behind and passed by. After a few meters it stopped and turned back. She quickly covered her face. The mujahidin told her, “God helped you that you covered your face. Otherwise . . .” And they told her not to do that again and to act like a good Muslim woman.418


Official policies that require women to wear burqas violate a number of fundamental rights protected under international law. By applying only to women, the burqa requirement is discriminatory, in violation of articles 3 and 26 of the ICCPR. It is also an arbitrary infringement on the right to privacy under article 17 of the ICCPR, which “protects the special, individual qualities of human existence, a person's manner of appearance, [and] his or her identity.”419 The burqa’s restrictive nature also implicates the rights to freedom of expression, movement, and association; government officials’ harassment of teachers for their physical appearance interferes with their right to work. Beyond ensuring that the burqa is not officially required, the government must also take meaningful steps to protect women and older girls from being targeted because of their appearance.

The Right to Work

Targeting of women by police and soldiers for sexual violence and the accompanying restrictions on their freedom of movement and access to education also greatly impede women’s ability to find work. Even where women are not in direct physical danger, they face discrimination by employers, including government officials, and, especially in rural areas, a dearth of jobs even for women who could fill them.420 As described above, several women in Jalalabad told Human Rights Watch that they left their teaching positions because of Abdul Ghani’s efforts to restrict their autonomy. In addition, one local advocate told Human Rights Watch:

In cities and especially in Jalalabad, employment is the greatest problem for women. A conscious and deliberate policy is applied here to prevent or create hindrances for women being appointed to government offices and, specifically, offices in the Education Department [Abdul Ghani]. The head of the Education Department consciously applied his policy of discriminating against women.

For instance, when ordinary civilians in rural areas establish a girls’ primary school, he avoids registering it or doesn’t give it books or other assistance. The head of the Education Department does not employ women in schools when there are vacancies. He himself has intimidated female teachers not to appear in public or be seen without a burqa and threatening them that they will be dismissed from their jobs. In my impression, the same kind of policy is applied here in all governmental offices.421

In Kabul, Human Rights Watch interviewed a woman who was denied a job with the government-run Radio Kabul solely because she submitted a photograph with her application in which she was not wearing a headscarf.422 She told us that she had nearly completed the process when she was asked for a photograph before her application would be sent to the head of Kabul Radio and Televisionfor final approval. She gave the secretary her application, and he told her, “I think [the head] won’t accept this kind of picture.” She told him, “This is the only picture I have [taken in the late 1980s], and now I’m wearing a headscarf.” “The secretary took the application inside and came out and said, ‘I told you he wouldn’t accept this kind of picture. Come back after one month and bring a picture with a headscarf and maybe he will forget.’” When he returned her application, she said, it had a large “X” drawn across it. She did as the secretary suggested and returned later with a photograph of herself wearing a headscarf and was given the job.423

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Afghanistan is a party, establishes a right to work and to be free from discrimination in the enjoyment of this right.424

293 For a general analysis of life for Afghan women and girls under the Taliban, see Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Humanity Denied,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 13, no. 5(c), October 2001, available at

294 Ibid., p. 6; see also Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 105-116.

295 See Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Radhika Coomaraswamy, “Mission to Pakistan and Afghanistan,” U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2000/68/Add.4, submitted March 13, 2000, pp. 4-11.

296 Physicians for Human Rights, Women’s Health and Human Rights in Afghanistan: A Population-Based Assessment (Boston: Physicians for Human Rights, 2001), p. 10.

297 See Rashid, Taliban, pp. 105-116.

298 Report of the Secretary General, “Discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan,” U.N. Doc. E/CN.6/2002/5, January 28, 2002, para. 61.

299 See Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 452; Foreign Area Studies, Afghanistan: A Country Study, Richard F. Nyrop and Donald M. Seeking, eds, 1986, p. 121.

300 See Dupree, Afghanistan, p. 560.

301 See Foreign Area Studies, Afghanistan: A Country Study, p. 121. A bride price is a sum of money paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s parents.

302 See Library of Congress, “Gender Roles,” Afghanistan: A Country Study, Peter R. Blood, ed., 1997.

303 Ibid.

304 Ibid.

305 Human Rights Watch interview with H.D., Kabul, March 13, 2003.

306 See Human Rights Watch, “New Limits on Female Education in Afghanistan,” press release, January 16, 2003; Human Rights Watch, “‘We Want to Live as Humans’”; Human Rights Watch, “All Our Hopes Are Crushed”; Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Former Women's Minister Intimidated,” press release, June 26, 2002; Human Rights Watch, “On the Precipice: Insecurity in Northern Afghanistan”; Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords”; Human Rights Watch, “Taking Cover: Women in Post-Taliban Afghanistan,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, May 2002, available at

307 See Rashid, Taliban, p. 110.

308 Emadi, Politics of Development and Women in Afghanistan, p. 38; Peter Marsden, The Taliban: War, Religion and the New Order in Afghanistan (New York: Zed Books, Ltd., 1998), pp. 118-119.

309 Physicians for Human Rights, The Taliban’s War on Women: A Health and Human Rights Crisis in Afghanistan (Boston: Physicians for Human Rights, 1998), p. 30.

310 Emadi, Politics of Development and Women in Afghanistan, pp. 57-60.

311 Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Institutions, Bonn, Germany, signed December 5, 2001; Constitution of Afghanistan (1964), art. 25.

312 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), opened for signature December 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force March 23, 1976, and acceded to by Afghanistan January 24, 1983), art. 2(1); Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), G.A. Res. 34/180, U.N. Doc. A/34/46 (entered into force September 3, 1981, and ratified by Afghanistan March 5, 2003); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), opened for signature December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A(XXII) (entered into force January 3, 1976, and acceded to by Afghanistan January 24, 1983), art. 2(2); and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (entered into force September 2, 1990, and ratified by Afghanistan March 28, 1994), art. 2(1).

313 CEDAW, art. 1.

314 Ibid., art. 2.

315 Ibid.

316 Convention on the Political Rights of Women, opened for signature and ratification December 20, 1952, G.A. Res. 640(VII) (entered into force July 7, 1954, and acceded to by Afghanistan November 16, 1966), art. 11.

317 Human Rights Watch interview with gender expert, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

318 Human Rights Watch interview with eleven-year-old boy, Paghman, March 16, 2003.

319 ICCPR, arts. 3,12.

320 General Comment 27, Freedom of Movement, U.N. Human Rights Committee, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev/1/Add/9 (November 2, 1999), para. 6.

321 Ibid., para. 18.

322 Constitution of Afghanistan (1964), art. 26.

323 Many of the women and girls in jail in Afghanistan’s cities are being held for so-called moral crimes related to their attempts to escape forced or abusive marriages. Although a number of women in Kabul have been released in one-time amnesties, the chief of police vowed to continue arrests. Officials also claim that the women and girls are being held for their own protection. See, e.g., Amy Waldman, “The 15 Women Awaiting Justice In Kabul Prison,” New York Times, March 16, 2003; and Valerie Reitman, “20 Female Afghan Prisoners Go Free Under Presidential Amnesty,” Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2003.

324 Human Rights Watch interview with P.N., Paghman, March 17, 2003.

325 Human Rights Watch interview with N.W., female university student, Kabul, March 26, 2003.

326 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.M., West Kabul, March 22, 2003.

327 Human Rights Watch group interview with five men, Paghman, March 16, 2003.

328 Human Rights Watch interview with A.A., Kabul, March 19, 2003.

329 Human Rights Watch with B.A. in group interview with four women and one girl, West Kabul, March 22, 2003.

330 Human Rights Watch with B.Z. in group interview with three sisters, West Kabul, March 22, 2003.

331 Human Rights Watch interview with T.S., teacher, Paghman, March 17, 2003.

332 Human Rights Watch group interview with village women, Paghman, March 17, 2003.

333 Ibid.

334 Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. humanitarian official, Kabul, March 13, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. humanitarian official, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

335 Ibid.

336 Ibid.

337 Ibid.

338 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Tessa Wardlaw, Senior Program Officer, Statistics and Monitoring, UNICEF, June 3, 2003. Women’s lifetime risk of dying in childbirth in Afghanistan is comparable to that in Sierra Leone. Ibid.

339 UNICEF, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Afghan Ministry of Public Health, Maternal Mortality in Afghanistan: Magnitude, Causes, Risk Factors and Preventability: Summary of Findings, November 6, 2002, p. 5; and UNICEF and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Afghanistan is among worst places on globe for women's health, say UNICEF and CDC,” November 6, 2002, available at (retrieved November 15, 2002).

340 Human Rights Watch interview with R.B., Kabul, March 27, 2003.

341 Ibid.

342 Human Rights Watch interview with D.F.W., Kabul, March 14, 2003.

343 Human Rights Watch interview with J.E.B., Kabul, March 15, 2003.

344 Human Rights Watch interview with D.M.Y.K., Paghman, March 16, 2003.

345 Human Rights Watch interview with F.M.P., Paghman, March 16, 2003.

346 Human Rights Watch interview with four female university students, Kabul, March 26, 2003.

347 UNICEF Afghanistan, “Progress With Girls Education in Afghanistan,” May 20, 2003 (from email to Human Rights Watch from Melissa Fernandez, UNICEF, May 20, 2003). The Ministry of Education of the Afghan Transitional Administration gave Human Rights Watch much higher estimates, both for the total number of students enrolled and the percentage of whom are girls. Human Rights Watch interview with Saquib, foreign relations and assistant to the Minister of Education, Ministry of Education, Afghan Transitional Authority, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

348 According to UNICEF, because there are no reliable and recent population estimates, it is not possible to estimate the numbers of out-of-school children. UNICEF Afghanistan, “Progress With Girls Education in Afghanistan,” May 20, 2003 (from Email to Human Rights Watch from Melissa Fernandez, UNICEF, May 20, 2003). However, in early 2002, there were an estimated 10.9 million children in Afghanistan under age eighteen and 3.8 million under age five, leaving 7.1 million between the ages of five and eighteen. UNICEF, “Afghanistan,” Country Profiles, February 1, 2002, available at (retrieved July 10, 2003). From these data it is possible to conclude that millions of girls—many more than the 1.1 million currently enrolled—are still out of school.

349 Human Rights Watch interview with Richard Navarro, Education Section, UNICEF, Kabul, March 29, 2003. While the overall female participation rate is 32 percent, in the southern provinces of Helmand, Khandahar, Minroz, Urruzgan, and Zabul, the rate is 10 percent, with some regions as low as 3 percent. Email to Human Rights Watch from Allison Hickling, UNICEF spokesperson, May 8, 2003.

350 Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. humanitarian official, Kabul, March 13, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. humanitarian official, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

351 Human Rights Watch interview with R.S., mother, group interview with four women and two girls, Paghman, March 16, 2003.

[352] For example, a one mother told Human Rights Watch:

We need a class for our [older] daughters. . . . They want to go to study but . . . [t]heir fathers say they should not go out, even for education. It’s O.K. for teachers to come to our house. . . . Their father says, “I will let the teachers come inside the house, but I will not let you go out.”

Human Rights Watch interview with R.S., mother in group interview with four women and two girls, Paghman, March 16, 2003.

353 Email to Human Rights Watch from Melissa Fernandez, UNICEF, May 29, 2003.

354 Human Rights Watch interview with A.S., primary school teacher, Kabul, March 14, 2003.

355 Girls and women told Human Rights Watch that long travel distances impeded their access to education not only in rural areas, where even a primary school may be far away, but also in Kabul, where lower schools may be closer but secondary schools may be farther from their homes. University students told us that the physical distance was less of a problem than the lack of effective public transportation (see section “Liberty of Movement,” above). Human Rights Watch group interview with four female second-year university students, Kabul, March 26, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with female first-year university student, Kabul, March 26, 2003. For more information about the disproportionate impact of travel distance on girls’ ability to access education, see Human Rights Watch, Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel’s Schools (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001), pp. 40-41, 88-89.

356 Human Rights Watch interview with F.O.Z.K., Paghman, March 16, 2003.

357 Human Rights Watch interview with D.F.W., Kabul, March 14, 2003.

358 Human Rights Watch interview with R.R.H., Paghman, March 17, 2003.

359 Human Rights Watch interview with F.S.G., man from Paghman, Kabul, March 15, 2003.

360 Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. humanitarian official, Kabul, March 13, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. humanitarian official, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

361 Ibid

362 Ibid.

363 Ibid.

364 Ibid.

365 Human Rights Watch interview with D.M.Y.K., Paghman, March 16, 2003.

366 Human Rights Watch interview with J.P.M.S., Paghman, March 18, 2003.

367 Human Rights Watch interview with D.M.Y.K., Paghman, March 16, 2003.

368 Email to Human Rights Watch from U.N. humanitarian official, June 8, 2003.

369 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.M., West Kabul, March 22, 2003.

370 Ibid.

371 Human Rights Watch interview with B.K. in group interview with three sisters, West Kabul, March 22, 2003.

372 Human Rights Watch interview with A.O.W., Afghan journalist, Kabul, April 20, 2003.

373 Ibid.

374 Human Rights Watch interview with L.M., Kabul, March 26, 2003.

375 Human Rights Watch interview with J.M, Kabul, March 26, 2003.

376 Human Rights Watch interview with R.B., English language teacher, Kabul, March 22, 2003.

377 Human Rights Watch interview with R.W., Kabul, March 29, 2003.

378 Human Rights Watch interview with S.P., teacher, English language school, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

379 Human Rights Watch interview with M.B., teacher, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

380 Ibid.

381 Human Rights Watch interview with R.B., English language teacher, Kabul, March 22, 2003. Two other witnesses confirmed these events. Human Rights Watch interview with R.W., Kabul, March 29, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with M.B., teacher, English language school, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

382 Human Rights Watch interview with R.B., English language teacher, Kabul, March 22, 2003.

383 Human Rights Watch interview with R.W., English language school, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

384 Human Rights Watch interview with Y.M., English language school official, Kabul, March 29, 2003.

385 Human Rights Watch interview with J.F.R., government official, Wardak, June 2, 2003.

386 Kim Barker, “Islamist Gangs Attacking Schools in Afghanistan,” Chicago Tribune, April 9, 2003; Email to Human Rights Watch from Melissa Hernandez, UNICEF, May 29, 2003.

387 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc A/810 at 71 (1948), art. 26; ICESCR, art. 13; Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 28, CEDAW, art. 10. Recognizing that different states have different levels of resources, international law does not mandate exactly what kind of education must be provided, beyond certain minimum standards: primary education must be “compulsory and available free to all,” and secondary education must be “available and accessible to every child.”

388 Constitution of Afghanistan (1964), art. 34.

389 ICESCR, art. 2(1). See also Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 28. But see General Comment 13, The Right to Education, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 21st sess., (December 8, 1999) para. 44; and General Comment 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 5th sess., (December 14, 1990), para. 2 (defining progressive realization).

390 The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which interprets the ICESCR, has stated: “The prohibition against discrimination enshrined in article 2(2) of the [ICESCR] is subject to neither progressive realization nor the availability of resources; it applies fully and immediately to all aspects of education and encompasses all internationally prohibited grounds of discrimination.” General Comment 13, The Right to Education, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, para. 31. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights interprets the ICESCR. See also, General Comment 11, Plans of Action for Primary Education, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 20th sess., U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/4 (May 10, 1999), para. 10; and General Comment 3, The Nature of States Parties Obligations, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, para. 2 (stating that the obligation to guarantee the exercise of rights in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights without discrimination is “of immediate effect”).

391 Convention on the Rights of the Child, arts. 28(1), 2(1). See also ICESCR, arts. 2, 13. The Committee has interpreted the prohibition on discrimination and the right to education in article 2(2) and 13 of the ICESCR in accord with the Convention against Discrimination in Education, adopted December 14, 1960, General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 429 UNTS 93 (entered into force May 22, 1962), and the relevant provisions of CEDAW. General Comment 13, The Right to Education, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, para. 31. CEDAW, in article 10, reads: “The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) obligates states to “eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure the, equal rights with men in the field of education and in particular to ensure, on the basis of equality of men and women . . . [t]he same conditions . . . for access to studies.”

392 The Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, interpreting article 13 of the ICESCR on the right to education, has found that certain separate educational systems or institutions for groups, under the circumstances defined in the Convention Against Discrimination in Education, do not constitute a breach of the Covenant. General Comment 13, The Right to Education, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, para. 33 and n. 16.

393 Women also expressed concern about community censure if they were to stop wearing the burqa. Human Rights Watch has opposed government bans on religious attire, including headscarves, as a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and religion. See Human Rights Watch, “Uzbekistan: Class Dismissed: Discriminatory Expulsion of Muslim Student,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 11, no. 12(D), October 1999, available at

394 Human Rights Watch interview with A.S., Kabul, March 14, 2003.

395 Human Rights Watch group interview with B.A., West Kabul, March 22, 2003.

396 Human Rights Watch interview with J.S., Kabul, March 27, 2003.

397 Human Rights Watch interview with A.S., Kabul, March 14, 2003.

398 Ibid.

399 Ibid.

400 Human Rights Watch interview with U.B., Kabul, March 13, 2003.

401 Human Rights Watch interview with H.D., Kabul, March 13, 2003.

402 Human Rights Watch interview with V.M., Kabul, March 13, 2003.

403 Human Rights Watch group interview with approximately thirty women, Paghman, March 16, 2003.

404 Human Rights Watch interview with R.S., mother, group interview with four women and two girls, Paghman, March 16, 2003.

405 Human Rights Watch interview with D.F.W., Kabul, March 14, 2003.

406 Human Rights Watch interview with J.M., Kabul, March 26, 2003.

407 Human Rights Watch interview with R.B., English language teacher, Kabul, March 27, 2003.

408 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.M., teacher, West Kabul, March 22, 2003.

409 Human Rights Watch interview with government official, Jalalabad, May 5, 2003; Human Right Watch interview with Z.R.D., local advocate, Jalalabad, May 6, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with P.G.Y., loya jirga delegate from Jalalabad, Kabul, May 6, 2003.

410 Human Rights Watch interview with P.G.Y., loya jirga delegate from Jalalabad, Kabul, May 6, 2003.

411 Human Rights Watch interview with P.A., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

412 Human Rights Watch interview with N.B., Jalalabad, May 8, 2003.

413 Human Rights Watch interview with P.G.Y., loya jirga delegate from Jalalabad, Kabul, May 6, 2003.

414 Human Rights Watch interview with P.A., Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

415 Ibid.

416 Human Rights Watch interview with K.S., Jalalabad, May 8, 2003.

417 Human Rights Watch interview with W.N., Jalalabad, May 7, 2003.

418 Human Rights Watch interview with K.S., Jalalabad, May 8, 2003.

419 Manfred Nowak, U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary (Arlington, V.A.: N.P. Engel, 1993), p. 294.

420 For example, Human Rights Watch interviewed a trained nurse in rural Paghman who said she wanted to work but that there were no jobs in her area. Human Rights Watch interview with nurse, Paghman, March 15, 2003. A man from Paghman whose wife was a teacher told us that they could not move back from Kabul, where they were living, to Paghman, because she would not be able to work there. Human Rights Watch interview with D.S.Z., Kabul, March 14, 2003.

421 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.R.D., local advocate, Jalalabad, May 6, 2003.

422 Human Rights Watch interview with H.E., Kabul, March 22, 2003.

423 Ibid.

424 ICESCR, art. 6. See also CEDAW, art. 11; and ILO Convention No. 111 concerning Discrimination in Respect to employment and Occupation, adopted June 25, 1958, 362 U.N.T.S. 31 (entered into force June 15, 1960, and ratified by Afghanistan October 1, 1969), art. 1(1).

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July 2003