Time and location

Thursday, 7 March 2019, 19:00 – 21:00
Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, Festsaal
Favoritenstraße 15a, 1040 Vienna


Orzala Nemat
Director, Afghanistan Research & Evaluation Unit, Kabul, Afghanistan

Sana Safi
Journalist und senior presesenter, BBC News Pashto TV/BBC World Service, London

Moderation: Ali Ahmad, Consultant for the VIDC

Welcome: Michael Fanizadeh, VIDC

Languages: English and German with simultaneous interpretation

Registration: fanizadeh@remove-this.vidc.org

Silenced? The struggles of women in Afghanistan

© Ali Ahmad
© Ali Ahmad


In 2001, the ruling Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan were overthrown by a US-led international coalition. Since then, the situation for women in the country has improved considerably: they again have access to fundamental rights and basic services such as healthcare and education. Additionally, many Afghan women have become more politically and legally empowered. Despite these developments, according to women’s rights activist Suraya Pakzad speaking at a VIDC event in November 2018, Afghanistan remains “one of the most dangerous places in the world for women”.  A current survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation confirms this assessment: Afghanistan is ranked as the second most dangerous country in the world for women. In the categories of “Domestic Violence”, “Health” and “Discrimination”, Afghanistan came in first place.

Today the Taliban are again on the advance, already completely or partially controlling 55% of the territory of Afghanistan, more than any time since they were ousted from power in 2001. Other terrorist organisations, including the so-called Islamic State (IS), have also made their mark on Afghanistan. The most recent peace negotiations between the Taliban and a US delegation however give reason for hope: that after almost two decades of foreign influence a political solution for the future of Afghanistan can be reached. Neverthelesss, there remains the danger that the fragile gains of Afghan women, won with the help of the international community, are again at stake and that they will be unable to participate in negotiations with the Taliban.

At this event, Orzala Nemat and Sana Safi will discuss the current situation for women in Afghanistan against the backdrop of the peace negotiations. They will describe the achievements of Afghan women since the 2001 military intervention and outline the challenges they face today. They will ask whether and how Afghan women can frame a possible peace agreement which protects the interests of women and girls in Afghanistan, and why, despite the massive support by the international community, Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world today, especially for women. They will also put forward suggestions of how women’s support programs run by the international community can be strengthened.


Orzala Nemat

lives in Kabul and is an Afghan scholar and civil society activist. She were born, lived and worked in Afghanistan (and for fourteen years in Pakistan as refugee), she experienced different aspect of life in varying environments. During Afghanistan's Taliban Government she put herself many times directly at risk and launched underground literacy and health education programs for women and girls. Orzala Nemat holds a PhD in Development studies from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), a MSc from University College London (UCL) and has been a Yale World Fellow class of 2008. As an expert in political ethnography, her research interest includes development and conflict, gender, governance and borderlands studies. Her PhD thesis in Development Studies focused on local governance relations that results from external interventions.  Following to completion of her Doctorate studies and two years of teaching at SOAS (UK), Nemat moved back to her home country, serving briefly as the Afghan president's advisor on local governance and then leading Afghan Think Tank Afghanistan Research & Evaluation Unit (AREU). As an Afghan scholar with over 16 years of experience in development practice, activism and women’s rights, Nemat brings an enriching experience into her new career path, leading Afghanistan Research & Evaluation Unit (AREU), one of the top research think-tanks in Central Asia region & Afghanistan. Orzala Nemat provides regular analysis through her writings, talks, media appearance and scholarly work on conflict, development, gender and the way local power relations affected by global interventions.

Sana Safi

is a Senior Presenter for the daily BBC News Pashto TV news programme, BBC Naray Da Wakht (BBC World Right Now). Nearly 1.5 million people connect with her on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). Sana Safi joined BBC World Service – of which BBC News Pashto is part – in 2006 as a field reporter in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. She then worked as a BBC Pashto radio and TV producer and presenter, based in London. As presenter of the BBC Pashto TV news programme, Sana Safi was the first broadcast journalist to interview Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, after her husband, Ashraf Ghani, took office in 2014.  In 2015, Safi was given rare access to some of Afghanistan’s rising super rich class in Dubai as well as Kabul, reporting on the flow of capital between Kabul and the Gulf countries, corruption, and investment opportunities for Afghanistan. She has been reporting on issues such as Afghan interpreters either being rejected or left behind by the British and American forces, female participation in Afghanistan’s security forces, maternal mortality, migration and other social and political issues facing the country. Before joining the BBC, Sana Safi worked as the only female journalist in Jalalabad’s state-run radio and television station, RTAJ. She also headed an educational institution in Jalalabad, Nangarhar, which provided literacy and numeracy classes for women and children deprived of education under the Taliban regime.

Ali Ahmad

Ali Ahmad works as consulatnt for the VIDC and is a Doctor and researcher with a Masters Degree in Peace and Conflict Research. His professional work focusses on security- and working-conditions in Afghanistan, non-state security actors, pacifist strategies, Afghani foreign policy, gender and peace journalism. As a journalist, Ali has been published in a plethora of international media in Afghanistan. Before he moved in Vienna, he lived and worked in Kabul. His latest publication at VIDC: Refugees return to poverty, unemployment and despair. Afghanistan’s labor market and the status of women.

Michael Fanizadeh

holds a Masters Degree in Political Science (Mag. Phil.) from the University of Vienna. From 1997 to 2008 he was Co-ordinator of the antiracism sports projects "FairPlay. Many colors. One game” as well as the European network “Football Against Racism in Europe – FARE”. Since 2008 project manager at VIDC dealing with Migration and Development, Antidiscrimination and the Middle East. His latest publication (in German): Nach dem Putsch: 16 Anmerkungen zur „neuen“ Türkei (After the coup. 16 remarks on the "new" Turkey), edited by Ilker Ataç, Michael Fanizadeh, Volkan Ağar, VIDC.