Women’s Rights in Iran and Afghanistan
Women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan are in severe danger. According to the National Library of Medicine, women’s empowerment has a direct correlation to food security, poverty rates and the elimination of hunger. Studies have proven that when women have access to education and are empowered to make their own decisions, there is a subsequent decline in “income poverty and multidimensional poverty.” The shared misogyny in Iran and Afghanistan, then, further propagates the countries’ high poverty rates–Iran with a rural poverty rate of 32%, and Afghanistan with a total poverty rate of 49.4%.

Women’s Challenges in Iran

The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested in Iran for “not covering her hair modestly enough,” and died in police custody just three days later, sparked outrage among women across the country. Amini’s arrest served as a reminder to all Iranian women of the in-place regime that “by law, treats women as second-class citizens.”

As Human Rights Watch reported, once a girl has hit puberty, they must wear the hijab. Additionally, any protest of the hijab can result in a fine or detention, which often includes beatings, harassment or sentencing to a term in prison. This denial of choice in clothing is just one way of controlling Iranian women, influencing their view of choice in all other aspects of life.

Thus, the retaliation Amini’s death sparked was not only in response to her death, but the risk Iranian women face in making choices as seemingly simple as how to wear a hijab.

This dangerous Iranian regime has not only “created many dangerous social crises,” according to Iran Focus, but has left more than 3 million women unemployed as heads of households, extending poverty to an additional 7 million children.

Gender discrimination in Iran is actively contributing to increasing poverty levels, with women who are the sole providers in their families struggling to meet ends for themselves and their families. Here are two organizations fighting for women’s rights in Iran, thereby fighting poverty.

The Iranian American Women Foundation (IAWF)

Founded in 2012, the Iranian American Women Foundation (IAWF) is an organization that aims to inspire, empower and connect Iranian women across the globe. Since Mahsa Amini’s death, AWF has actively raised awareness for and supported the Iranian Women’s Rights Movement. Some ways it does this include:
  • Working with Major Companies and/or Buildings: The organization, in collaboration with various companies and schools, has hosted conferences across the U.S., opening dialogue on the women’s rights crisis in Iran.
  • Facilitating Vigils: On September 29, 2022, IAWF held a vigil in West Hollywood Park for Mahsa Amini and other Iranian women who have risked their safety fighting for women’s rights.
  • Buying Advertisements/Billboards: The foundation has raised funds to cover major billboards raising awareness for the ongoing fight for women’s rights in Iran, locations include: Times Square, NYC, Miami, FL, San Jose, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA.
  • Visiting Schools: On October 11, 2022, the organization honored the International Day of the Girl by hosting Iranian American speakers at Marlborough School to speak about female empowerment. Speakers presented speeches and held conversations with students about the education crisis for women around the globe and specifically in Iran, encouraging students to be “agents of change.”
All of these efforts raise awareness for the crises Iranian women face every day. With every conversation hosted, and every billboard read, IAWF raises awareness for and helps fight poverty rates that gender inequality in Iran propagates.

United for Iran

United for Iran, founded in 2009, is a nonprofit organization that advocates human rights in Iran by supporting progressive civil liberties and empowering citizens through technology. By organizing campaigns, supporting civil movements and providing Iranians access to new technologies, United for Iran equips citizens with the necessary resources and skills to fight oppression head-on.

In its IranIncubator 1.0 and IranIncubator 2.0 projects, United for Iran connected app developers and software engineers to “civil society leaders” to collaborate on apps to better the lives of vulnerable social groups (i.e. women, immigrants, LGBTQI communities, activists, etc.). By assessing community needs, app developers and leaders brainstorm and develop apps to serve Iran’s most vulnerable.

Additionally, back in 2015, the organization led a campaign to free Bahreh Hedayat, a women’s rights activist, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for peaceful protests against gender discrimination and violence towards women. In its campaign, U4I acquired 130,000 petitioners for Hedayat’s release.

Women’s Challenges in Afghanistan

On Dec. 21, 2022–a mere two months after Amini’s tragic death–Taliban officials barred females in Afghanistan from pursuing all educational opportunities, closed universities to women, fired professors and sent home elementary school girls. Alongside barring education, the Taliban published a set of rules for Afghani women to follow, including:
  • Adult women are not to visit mosques or religious seminaries.
  • A “male guardian” must accompany any woman when they travel more than 48 miles or attend appointments and errands (entering government buildings, doctor checkups, taking a taxi, etc.).
  • Women cannot pursue jobs, except medicinal careers.
  • Women cannot visit public parks.

Amini’s death sparked retaliation in Iran against the commonplace violence women endure, and in retaliation, security forces have killed 201 protestors. Similarly, the Talbian’s latest education ban inspired protests in Herat, where female protestors faced water cannons for their retaliation.

About 71.5% of adult females in Afghanistan face “severe food insecurity”– versus 61.2% of adult men. With the new bans on women pursuing education and careers, this statistic is likely to worsen.

Afghani women who no longer have the option to work and are the heads of households have no choice but to starve and households relying on both parents’ incomes will be highly vulnerable to poverty and food scarcity. Here are two organizations fighting for women’s rights and against poverty in Afghanistan.

Women for Afghan Women (WAW)

Women for Afghan Women (WAW), founded in 2001, is a civil-society organization– and the largest women’s organization in Afghanistan– that promotes women’s rights in Afghanistan. By working with victims of domestic violence, WAW aims to empower women to “pursue their individual potential,” and fight for places in scenes prohibited to Afghani women (i.e. political scenes).

Over the past 22 years, WAW has distributed food and sanitary necessities to women and girls in Afghanistan, operating 34 centers to provide women’s protection services, child support and family guidance.

By August 2022, WAW’s efforts supported 94,863 Afghani individuals, 11,454 families and 1,355 survivors of gender-based violence, equipping families, Afghani women and girls with immediate and long-term relief services and support.

Women’s Regional Network (WRN)

The Women’s Regional Network (WRN), founded in 2010, aims to provide a voice to the voiceless women subject to violence and misogyny in South Asia. In Iran, the network connects women to “peace advocates,” who offer a safe, supportive and empowering learning environment for participants to gain access to knowledge on political discourse and policy development.

WRN hosts community conversations with Afghani women regarding any emergent needs, conflicts and policy discourse. By offering safe spaces for women to speak freely, learn about policy impact and brainstorm solutions, WRN equips Afghani women with hope for and actionable plans for a more equitable future.

While news headlines regarding women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan may be tough to read, it is an important reminder that the fight for equality and civil rights around the world is not nearly at a close. Every day women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan are at risk, raising the vulnerability of women and children to severe poverty. Consider donating to or reading more about these four organizations fighting for women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan to help.

– Micaella Balderrama
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Afghanistan
Wandering the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1960s, one passed lively, miniskirt-clad women alongside male friends as they strolled to their university classes. Heiresses to a new age of freedom, these women voted, laughed and lived freely, invigorated by the progressive spirit that pervaded every corner of the city. Beginning in the 1970s, however, conflict and poor governance gradually weakened women’s societal freedom. Then in 1996, the Taliban dismantled what semblance of equality remained. The United States’ post-9/11 occupation in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban and has helped to revive and work toward improving women’s rights in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. Yet in February 2020, the U.S. endorsed a deal with Afghanistan to withdraw from the country called The U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal. Although the agreement heralds a much-overdue peace between these long-warring countries, the departure of American troops may facilitate the return of Taliban rule and the subsequent eradication of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Unchecked Oppression of Women

The first half of the 20th century saw great progress toward gender equality in Afghanistan. The era’s feminist vigor enfranchised women and integrated them with men. When the 1960s constitution cemented women’s rights in the fabric of the nation, true gender equality seemed imminent.

Hardship soon befell Afghanistan. The country’s status as a Soviet proxy state in the 1970s, and later, the jihadist activity by Mujahideen groups, eroded women’s rights. Additionally, these conflicts contributed to the political fragility that ultimately enabled the Taliban to take power in 1996. In pursuit of establishing an Islamic state, the Taliban implemented a doctored, repressive interpretation of sharia law.

This Islamist code drastically encroached on women’s rights in Afghanistan and effectively confined them to the domestic sphere. Depriving them of the right to vote, to receive an education or to seek employment, the Taliban subordinated women. Even minor defiance to these restrictions met with violent floggings, abuse and even stonings. Such atrocities extended beyond legal sanctions; women were frequently subject to sexual assault. The Taliban’s message was clear: womanhood itself was punishable.

US Occupation and Female Empowerment

After al-Qaeda-engineered the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. deployed thousands of troops to Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. This maneuver catalyzed nearly two decades of bloodshed. Though it has been hotly contested, America’s involvement has boosted women’s rights in Afghanistan. During the U.S. occupation, women have regained considerable economic opportunity and social freedoms.

Post-Taliban legislative actions have codified gender parity. The new constitution recognizes women’s legal equality with men. Rape, violence and physical abuse, previously an unrelenting threat to Afghan women, are now indictable offenses.

Women are also profiting from widening economic and educational opportunities and changes in societal attitudes. After decades of flatlining, the female labor force participation rate has increased by 7% since 2010, with women foraying into education, medicine, law enforcement and even public office at record levels. Women’s recent vocational advances have contributed to shifting ideologies across the country. In February 2020, NBC News reported that most Afghans have discarded misogynistic views in support of improving women’s rights in Afghanistan. Such a cultural transformation seems to herald women’s long-term empowerment and civic engagement.

Repercussions of the US-Taliban Peace Deal

Tragically, the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, signed Feb. 29, has the potential to reverse these last two decades of progress. With robust backing from both sides, the document provides for the departure of American troops from Afghanistan. This deal promises an end to the United States’ longest war. For its part, the Taliban has agreed to reject terrorism in pursuit of negotiating peace with the Afghan government.

The deal aspires to pacify a country too long battered by conflict, but it contains a grave flaw: it makes no provisions for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Despite its previous claims that harmony would “not be possible” without securing equality for women, the U.S. deferred the determination of gender parity to intra-Afghan discussions.

The Taliban has committed to granting women the rights that Islam guarantees. However, it claims to have upheld this pledge during its brutally repressive rule from 1996 to 2001. Given that the Taliban’s understanding of women’s rights has proven alarmingly narrow, its recent promise is hardly a consolation. Moreover, according to the U.S.’s most recent report, the territory that the Afghan government commanded in 2019 had dwindled to a record low. Without foreign aid or military backing, many fear the Taliban will easily overthrow the weakening Afghan government following the withdrawal of American troops.


In the past 20 years, Afghan women have shattered thousands of glass ceilings as they have built successful careers and enjoyed their hard-won freedoms. As the terms of the peace deal are actualized. However, the potential return of Taliban rule threatens to obliterate these advances. In order to avert a revival of misogyny and secure women’s rights in Afghanistan, Women for Afghan Women’s (WAW) Peacebuilding Program is preparing women to participate in future intra-Afghan talks. Along with stimulating meaningful political discourse among citizens, the program has coached 3,065 women in advocacy and negotiation. Politically and socially empowered, these outspoken women are joining the everyday conversations and monumental peace talks that will dictate their and their country’s future, and work toward improving women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Pxfuel

7 Non-Profits Working to Help Women in Afghanistan
Poverty and oppression go hand in hand for women in Afghanistan. In a country hosting a crushing degree of poverty, women face a variety of discrimination and violence, in many cases from their own families. Global Rights estimates almost nine out of 10 Afghan women will endure marriage against their will or physical, sexual or psychological abuse.

In response to the abuse of women in Afghanistan, several nonprofits have formed to focus on empowering women and helping them escape the trap of poverty and abuse. Many of these nonprofits are based in Afghanistan and feature Afghan women in prominent leadership roles. All of them face danger operating in rural areas of Afghanistan where the rights of women are routinely trod upon.

    1. Afghan Women’s Educational Center (AWEC): AWEC works to empower women in local Afghan communities while working towards gender equality. Through a series of programs focused on providing income and education opportunities for women, they hope to bring about lasting change in Afghanistan towards equality for all. Also as part of their agenda, the organization works to offer new social services for women in addition to founding community centers in rural areas to promote women’s issues and health.
    2. Afghan Women’s Mission: A small group of Americans founded this organization in 2000 as a way of providing medical assistance to Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. The Afghan Women’s Mission focuses its support on efforts led by Afghan women such as clinics, schools, orphanages, agricultural programs and demonstrations. The volunteers of this nonprofit are proud to support the political and humanitarian efforts of another organization on this list, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
    3. Afghan Women’s Network: Formed by a group of women after participating United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the Afghan Women’s Network seeks to provide a foundation for a movement of women in Afghanistan. Boasting a presence in Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Bamyan, Paktia, Nangarhar and Kunduz the network serves as an umbrella for 125 women’s organizations across Afghanistan. The member organizations are concerned with addressing gender-based violence, the health of children and education for girls.
    4. Afghan Women Welfare Department (AWWD): Founded in the last year of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1989, AWWD began as a way to improve the outcomes of Afghan women in refugee camps. Expanding from its original purpose, AWWD now attempts to assist Afghan women entrepreneurs in the Peshawar. In over 19 years, AWWD has educated some 13,000 women in education services, vocational training, general health, reproductive health, gender awareness training, human rights and income-generation.
    5. Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA): Perhaps the oldest women’s rights advocacy organization operating in Afghanistan, several highly-educated Afghan women formed the group in 1977 under the leadership of an Afghan woman named Meena. Surviving the Meena’s assassination in 1987, RAWA continues to struggle for the rights of women in addition to democratic and secular values in Afghanistan. Currently, RAWA provides publications to raise awareness of the plight of Afghan women and works to provide education, healthcare and employment opportunities to women in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    6. U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council: The only mixed public-private institution on this list, a group of Afghans, university officials and U.S. State Department personnel formed the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council in 2002 at Georgetown University. Like the other nonprofits on this list, programming addresses education, health and economic empowerment of women while also focusing heavily on women’s leadership development. Honorary co-chairs of the organization include First Ladies Laura Bush, Hillary R. Clinton and Rula Ghani.
    7. Women for Afghan Women (WAW): Founded a few months prior to the attacks of September 11th in 2001, WAW is based in New York in the Afghan community in Queens. Responding to abuse directed towards women, its members operate long-term shelters for women and children in 13 Afghan provinces while also providing legal aid to women in need. Their past clients have included women targeted with mutilation, acid attacks, torture, rape and attempted murder.

Will Sweger

Photo: Flickr