2.11.6. Single women and female heads of households



This country guidance is currently under review. In view of the recent significant changes, notably the Taliban takeover, assessments within this document may no longer be valid. When examining the international protection needs of applicants from Afghanistan, please consider the most up-to-date country of origin information available.

Last updated: December 2020

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 due to lack of documentation [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 go outside alone or go to work are frequently subjected to sexual harassment in the streets. 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].

Women seeking protection face a gender-biased and discriminatory justice system [Key-socio-economic indicators 2017, 3.8; see also the section 2.11.1 Violence against women and girls: overview].

Risk analysis

The individual assessment of whether or not discrimination of single women and female heads of households could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

Moreover, 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.

Not all women under this sub-profile would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: personal status, area of origin and residence, perception of traditional gender roles in the family or community, economic situation, availability of civil documentation, education, etc.

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).

P1460#yIS1 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).

See other topics concerning women and girls:
2.11.6. Single women and female heads of households


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