2.12.5. Single women and female heads of households

Last update: April 2022

COI summary

The Afghan society is male-dominated. However, traditional family units were disrupted because of the high number of men killed on the battlefield or in the course of violence, as a result of which women, the elderly, and sometimes children had to take the role of their households’ breadwinner. It was noted that female-headed households were significantly more food insecure than those headed by men. In particular, female-headed displaced households were more vulnerable with regard to having stable income sources and employment and were often blocked from accessing certain services and legal protection [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 2.3.3].

According to social customs, women’s freedom of movement is limited by the requirement of male consent or male protection. Women who went outside alone or went to work were frequently subjected to sexual harassment in the streets. Following the Taliban takeover, women were reportedly stopped and harassed by Taliban fighters for leaving their homes without a male relative or not wearing a burqa. On 26 December 2021 the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice reportedly issued a guidance saying that women should not be offered transport of more than 45 miles (72 kilometres) if unaccompanied by a close male relative and calling on drivers to not offer rides to women that are not wearing hijab.’ [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 3.3, Key socio-economic indicators 2017, 5.5.; Society-based targeting, 3.8.6, Country Focus 2022, Introduction].

Unmarried women face the most restrictions, particularly in rural areas, among middle and lower classes, and among Pashtuns. Living alone is, furthermore, associated with inappropriate behaviour and could potentially lead to accusations of ‘moral crimes’ [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 3.3, Key socio-economic indicators 2017, 5.5.; Society-based targeting, 3.8.6].

There are no recent statistics on divorce in Afghanistan, but it can be said that divorce is considered a taboo in most of Afghan society, particularly in rural communities. It is not frequently pursued and is more easily granted to men than to women. Divorced women are in a precarious situation where they may not be able to return to their father’s family home or may be seen as a burden to them. Divorced women and widows were reported to face difficulties in claiming their rights over land and properties. They also face negative societal attitudes and harassment [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 3.8; Society-based targeting, 3.8.3, 3.8.6]. Although it was reported that the Taliban released a decree on 3 December 2021, stating that widows have a share in their husband’s property, no information is available on the practical implementation of this rule [Country Focus 2022, 2.3].

Already, before the takeover, women seeking protection faced a gender-biased and discriminatory justice system [Key-socio-economic indicators 2017, 3.8; see also the section 2.12.1 Violence against women and girls: overview].

Risk analysis

Being a single woman or female head of household considerably enhances the risk for such women to be exposed to acts, which, due to their severity, repetitiveness or accumulation could amount to persecution. Similarly, it also increases their risk of being exposed to violence. For example, women were reportedly stopped and harassed by Taliban for leaving their homes without a male relative.

Based on negative perceptions against them, their increased vulnerability to be subjected to violence and the restrictions imposed on women following the Taliban takeover, single women and female heads of households would be likely to have a well-founded fear of persecution.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that, where well-founded fear of persecution could be substantiated, it may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group (e.g. divorced women, due to their common background which cannot be changed and distinct identity in Afghanistan, in relation to divorce being a societal taboo).

The connection may also be between the absence of protection against persecution and one or more of the reasons under Article 10 QD (Article 9(3) QD).