The Role of Women in Development

By: Hangama Qasemi; Translated by: Jandad Jahani

Development, a multifaceted concept, segregates countries into categories such as developed, less developed, and underdeveloped. This classification is based on their advancement across numerous sectors, including economics, politics, culture, and society. To promote this development, governments employ short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies. Amidst all this, what is the actual definition of development, and how does a woman fit into its blueprint?

Development is the ongoing narrative of enhancing the quality of life, preserving dignity, and ensuring freedom for individuals. It’s nearly impossible to gauge the development level of societies without considering their habits, values, norms, and beliefs. Fast-forward twenty-two years to the initiation of our nation’s development journey, and focus on the opportunities presented post-2001, after the establishment of the republic government. Businesses thrived, numerous commercial and service companies, transportation entities, and banks were operational, considerable investments were allocated for infrastructure, educational opportunities were non-discriminatory, and a parliament was formed. Despite these achievements, Afghanistan remains a country that’s off the development track. The question that arises here is why, and where did we falter?

Our failure to progress towards development is primarily linked to the issue of women’s empowerment. It’s important to understand that development isn’t solely dependent on capital, knowledge, economic power, science, or technology. In the absence of empowered women, all of this is unstable. Development cannot be expected while sidelining women.

Women’s empowerment is a crucial indicator of development, and achieving it necessitates their active participation in the social, political, and cultural spheres. The higher the women’s participation in these arenas, the more developed the society. Although universities were opened for women during the Republic, and many girls attended, their social presence and active participation were limited. Despite being educated, some chose not to seek employment. This issue, in my view, stems from socio-cultural constraints and lack of awareness among women.

Inaccurate beliefs, social norms, and customs, coupled with misinterpretations stemming from cultural and societal attitudes, have restricted women to their homes, limiting their responsibilities to domestic chores and familial duties. This mindset has prevented even highly skilled and educated women from assuming leadership roles. Often, women are compelled to abandon their careers due to familial pressures or settle for traditional roles such as teaching, thereby excluding them from prominent positions.

Undeniably, politics, country management, and family matters are predominantly male-controlled. However, Afghan women, influenced by a social system that endorses discrimination, have unconsciously adopted patriarchal thoughts, sometimes even reinforcing male-centered ideologies. This mindset permeates not only urban women but also those residing in remote provincial areas. The lack of awareness has prevented women from recognizing these inequities and challenging the status quo.

Sara Lange, a renowned expert in women’s studies, highlights “awareness” as a crucial empowerment stage. This stage involves understanding gender roles and acknowledging that they are influenced by culture and are alterable. By developing gender awareness, gender equality can be viewed as a developmental objective and an integral part of the empowerment ideology.

In light of the prevailing culture and lack of awareness, women in the country are handicapped. So, how can we alter this and pave the way for development? The answer lies in empowering women. Empowered women, while assuming roles as leaders, entrepreneurs, and politicians, also raise children equipped with critical thinking, diversity, dynamism, responsibility, and receptiveness to criticism. These attributes foster sustainable and continuous development.

The Taliban’s rise to power, however, plunged us into a myriad of problems. Not only have we halted progress, but we’ve also strayed from the development path. Access to education and improved literacy rates are development indicators that cannot be achieved without considering the female population.

Additionally, in developed societies, we witness the participation of all citizens, including women, in governance and societal management. This principle has been breached in the past two years due to the exclusion of women. Development hinges on the realization of economic and social equality and the maintenance of social discipline.

Therefore, the empowerment of women remains a pivotal factor in the growth and development of our society. This fact highlights the urgent need for not just acknowledging, but actively advocating for the pivotal role women play in every facet of development. It is only through a collective endeavor, encompassing a blend of societal, cultural, political, and educational reforms, that we can hope to carve out a path for sustainable development that puts women at its core. We must remember that a society can only truly advance when every one of its members, regardless of gender, is allowed and encouraged to contribute their utmost potential to its progress.