This article was written by F.S. for Hasht-e-Subh Daily. An edited version is republished on Global Voices under a media partnership agreement.
Agriculture and animal husbandry are primary occupations in Afghanistan, with about 80 percent of the population engaged in them. Afghan women make up a significant portion of this workforce. They are involved in agriculture, animal husbandry, home gardening, chicken and fish farming, handicrafts, and other tasks. They also play a substantial role in land and natural resources management. Moreover, nearly all dairy product production is carried out by women in rural areas.
However, this level of activity and work does not mean that women own land or become wealthy from selling their products. On the contrary, women in rural areas are considered a substitute for male labor and unpaid workers, whose work neither leads to financial independence nor improves their living conditions.
The main reason for this is the lack of control over and ownership of the joint products of their work when collaborating with men. Women do not benefit much from their work, and whatever income is generated belongs to the male head of the family. In addition to working alongside men in the fields, women farmers also take care of their children at home. However, the work of these women, both at home and in the fields, is not considered labor.
Twenty years of empowering women in the countryside
Over the past 20 years, Afghanistan has prioritized the empowerment of women. In this regard, NGOs have helped Afghan rural women to some extent to participate regularly in agriculture and livestock sectors. The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development of Afghanistan had planned an economic development program for rural areas, focusing on women in all 34 provinces of the country.
The aim of the Rural Economic Development Program was “elevating the social and economic capabilities of poor rural women in selected villages.” Additionally, one of the goals of the National Solidarity Program (NSP) in 2003, and later the Citizen’s Charter, was to provide agricultural resources to women.
Here is a YouTube video about the 2017 project that taught Afghan women agricultural and food preservation skills.
Lastly, in September 2018, the Women’s Economic Empowerment project was launched to reduce poverty among rural and agricultural women by creating income-generating opportunities in their villages, increasing women’s employment, and improving the situation of rural women farmers.
However, war and insecurity, discriminatory social norms, government inefficiency in raising awareness, and the lack of efforts to improve women’s conditions meant that these efforts failed to make significant changes in the situation of women farmers. The projects designed for women did not turn Afghan women farmers into entrepreneurs or make them the owners of their assets and labor force. Women farmers did not gain access to suitable and regular jobs, and their quality of life did not improve. They continue to face hunger, malnutrition, lack of access to healthcare, and limited productive activities. Their situation is exacerbated by the fact that they have very low levels of literacy and awareness.
Women farmers under the Taliban
The Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan has left rural women farmers and livestock breeders in a deplorable situation. Although their situation was not much better before, at least women played an essential role in organizing small unions and benefited from limited assistance. With the arrival of the Taliban in power in August 2021, all women (rural and urban) have been deprived of their previous rights and privileges. Urban women have lost all their freedoms, and the right to work and education, while rural women farmers have been pushed further to the margins.
The restrictions and unfavorable agricultural and livestock conditions have created numerous challenges for women farmers. The Taliban’s rise to power has worsened the agricultural situation in Afghanistan. This is concerning, given that 33.48 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP depends on agriculture, and women play a significant role in it.
The 2021 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that “millions of Afghans are on the brink of disaster, and if their animals die or their fields are not planted, disaster will strike.” This gloomy forecast is materializing today. In the current economic crisis, rural women farmers are more vulnerable than any other group. They face a high likelihood of losing their meager assets or savings, which are usually set aside for healthcare and family hygiene expenses.
The economic shock caused by the Taliban’s rise to power, along with the increased prices of essential goods, has plunged rural communities into deeper poverty. The rising cost of seeds, the collection of tithes by the Taliban, and the restrictions imposed on women have all worsened the overall agricultural situation and the economic situation of rural women farmers.
Here is a YouTube video about the changes in Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power in 2021.
Additionally, the inability to sell products in the market or being forced to sell them at low prices has forced men to migrate and, in some cases, abandon farming and livestock breeding altogether. This development has shifted the burden of cultivation and livestock breeding onto women. In the absence of men and due to societal barriers, women lack economic security and are sometimes unable to utilize available resources for land and its management.
Furthermore, the lack of suitable markets for dairy products has placed rural women livestock breeders in an even more impoverished situation. Some women farmers working in vegetable agriculture have reported that their products sell at very low prices, and the money they earn is insufficient to cover the cost of their food supplies.
Working on two fronts
Women farmers, due to their role in economic development and their family responsibilities, require serious attention and support. Afghan women undertake the responsibilities of family care, education, and healthcare, while simultaneously working in agriculture and livestock breeding. They are critical actors in the development of rural communities and the country as a whole. It is crucial to empower these women through education, vocational training, and access to markets. Empowering women farmers is essential for the economic development and food security of Afghanistan.
Nowadays, rural women are not only deprived of education and skill acquisition opportunities but also face increased exposure to violence. There are opportunities for the international community, local organizations and community leaders to play a more active role in supporting rural women farmers. Giving them agricultural inputs, technical assistance, and access to credit and financial services would benefit them greatly. Additionally, awareness-raising campaigns challenging discriminatory social norms and practices that hinder the progress of women in agriculture and livestock breeding are important.
Here is a YouTube video about the UNDP project that supports women farmers in Afghanistan.
It is essential to recognize the tremendous potential of Afghan women and invest in their capacities to improve their lives and the well-being of their families and communities. By addressing the numerous challenges faced by women farmers and providing them with the necessary tools and resources, Afghanistan can build a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society for all. Despite the numerous challenges faced by women farmers, they remain a cornerstone of Afghan society.