Despite the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Afghan women continue to suffer from some of the worst health, illiteracy, and poverty levels in the world. Their low social status and poor access to the most basic services (an estimated 86 percent of girls and women over the age of fifteen are illiterate) are illustrated by astonishingly high maternal mortality figures. Though accurate figures are difficult to obtain, according to UNICEF, one in six women in Afghanistan is expected to die in childbirth. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women and girls die each year from lack of access to medical care-nationwide an estimated 87 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.
And yet, there are rays of hope. In 2004, despite continued threats of violence, over four million Afghan women responded to a constitutional law guaranteeing their equal rights by registering to vote. It was later reported that the voter turnout in this now famous election was nearly 77 percent. This in a country where only three years earlier the Taliban threatened to kill anyone who registered to vote and barred women from even leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. Still, how can you have a democracy when 75% of the country is illiterate and when female parliament members are threatened with rape for publicly expressing their opinion? It is clear amidst these tensions that while Afghan women have begun their hard and certainly long struggle to be heard, the future holds many challenges.
Anna Knutzen, Krista Colleague class of 2006, is working with the International Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (IAM). As IAM's Media & Public Relations Officer Anna seeks to articulate the story of Afghanistan's poorest people while promoting sustainable development programs in some of the country's most undeserved areas. As part of her work Anna travels around the country doing photo-journalistic work in order give a voice to the Afghan people. This is particularly true of Anna's work photographing women, who she has unique access to in this still strictly stratified country.