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Afghanistan: Religion, tradition and women’s rights

A group of Afghan women march together through the streets.

A statement from our Global Executive Director, Yasmeen Hassan, on the ongoing situation in Afghanistan and what it means for women’s and girl’s rights.

Watching the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan, I am reminded of two important lessons I learned growing up in  Pakistan in the 1970s. Firstly, religion, regardless of its origin, cannot be used as a justification to legally curtail the rights of any person or group. And secondly, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, women will never stop fighting for their rights.

The situation for women and girls in Afghanistan is dire, but it is also a mistake to underestimate Afghan women. In the past two decades, grassroots activists and organizations have made incredible strides in the fight for gender justice. 

The link between women’s equality and peace and security is well established. When societies treat women and girls fairly, there is less societal conflict and more economic stability.

For nearly three decades Equality Now has worked to reform sex discriminatory laws that impinge on womens’ and girls’ rights to live free from discrimination. And while we know equal laws are a necessary prerequisite to substantive equality. Our current campaign to reform family law, which includes marriage, divorce, custody and guardianship, property rights, and inheritance, takes on some of the most intractable and discriminatory laws that exist today.

As co-founders of the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law, we are working with a diverse range of partners in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and around the world, including feminist leaders and experts working within religious frameworks, to advocate for reform of these laws so that women and girls are not treated as second-class citizens. 

Religion and tradition are often used to justify limiting women’s and girls’ rights, particularly in the realm of family law, and we know that we must support women’s rights activists working to challenge these frameworks.

In the last few weeks, I’ve added my voice to a letter by Women for Women International and Vital Voices, calling on President Biden to: 

  • Provide direct evacuation flights for women who are under imminent threat.
  • Protect and invest in women who remain in Afghanistan.
  • Allocate resources for livelihood assistance and resettlement. 
  • Expand Special Immigrant Visas to include a category for at-risk women and raise the refugee cap. 


We are also continuing to ask our donors to support the efforts of organizations who are providing resources and ensuring the safety of women human rights defenders in Afghanistan, including: