Most commentators agree there has been rapid and significant progress in many areas relating to women in Afghanistan – the Afghan government has committed itself to various international human rights instruments; gender equality is now considered government policy; significant numbers of women voted in the 2004 parliamentary elections; a ministry for women’s affairs now exists; women’s access to healthcare has improved; and they enjoy modest levels of political participation.
However, domestic legal frameworks and the judicial system are not able to enforce the standards set by international human rights instruments, and national frameworks are not necessarily able to influence local communities and households. The security and economic environment, as well as the general conservatism of Afghan society, continue to define the context within which Afghan women live. Women are still vulnerable to various forms of violence including forced marriages, domestic violence, honour killings, kidnappings, harassment and intimidation, and suffer from poor political representation and lack of access to basic services. Women in rural areas are especially subject to authoritarian and traditional practices. In some areas, women’s development has declined even beyond the levels of the Taliban era.