Longest-Running Survey of Afghan Opinion Shows Growing Support for Women’s Rights

New data from the Asia Foundation shows a growing support for women’s education and employment in Afghanistan. The organization’s poll of 17,812 Afghans demonstrated the progress made in the views of Afghans in regards to women’s rights and their position in public life.

According to Afghanistan in 2019: A Survey of the Afghan People—the 15th installment in the report series, which is the longest-running barometer of Afghan opinion—the approval and support for women’s education has continued to rise over the past years, reaching nearly 87 percent this year, up from 84 percent in 2018. A record number of Afghans also support women working outside their homes: 70 percent of respondents said as much in 2018, and in 2019, 76 percent did. Many Afghans interviewed for the survey believe that the lack of education, justice and rights, domestic violence and employment opportunities have been some of the biggest challenges faced by women.

Although there is an overwhelming consensus among Afghans for peace and the continuation of negotiations between the Trump administration and the Taliban, they do not support compromising the Constitution of Afghanistan, losing territories to the armed groups and losing women’s human rights. Foundation researchers assert in the report that ongoing peace discussions between the Trump administration and the Taliban have worried many Afghans, who envision a retreat to the Taliban era.

“Increased optimism around the peace talks along with persistent fears about insecurity and the economy continue to influence Afghan views,” Abdullah Ahmadzai, the Asia Foundation’s country representative in Afghanistan, said in a statement. “Following the collapse of the talks and election delays (which took place after this year’s Survey fieldwork), prospects for a sustainable political settlement are unclear. More than ever, empirical data is a crucial resource for the future and development of Afghanistan.”

Although many Afghans believe that they feel represented in the peace talks, 65 percent of survey respondents said they would not support the Afghan president if he enters a deal with the Taliban that jeopardizes women’s rights, access to education and ability to work. Nearly 66 percent also said they would not support the deal if the Afghan government loses territory for a peace settlement. More than 80 percent of the respondents believe that freedom of speech and freedom of the press must be protected.

The changing views of Afghans reflected in the results additionally indicate a steady rise in public awareness of women’s rights and status—and the survey also reveals that an increasing number of Afghans have access to information and media, with TV taking over radio as a source of information and potentially fueling that feminist shift.

More than 65 percent of Afghans reported watching television as a source of information, a significant increase from 11.2 percent in 2013. More than 17 percent now have access to the Internet and use the platform for accessing information—an impressive 16-fold increase from 1.1 percent in 2006. “Afghans who get their news and information from radio and shuras also tend to have less favorable views of women working outside the home than respondents who use television and the Internet,” the authors explain in the Executive Summary, “and they are less likely than television and Internet users to favor equal education for women.”

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