A population-based assessment of women's mental health and attitudes toward women's human rights in Afghanistan

Lynn L. Amowitz*, Michele Heisler, Vincent Iacopino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Objective: To assess the health status of Afghan women and attitudes of these women and their male relatives during the period of Taliban rule toward women's rights and community development needs in Afghanistan. Methods: In household residences in two regions in Afghanistan (one Taliban controlled and the other not under the Taliban) and a refugee camp and repatriation center in Pakistan, structured interviews were conducted among a random sample of women and men exposed to Taliban policy and women living in a non-Taliban controlled area (724 Afghan women and 553 male relatives). Results: Major depression was far more prevalent among women exposed to Taliban policies (73%-78%) than among women living in a non-Taliban controlled area (28%). Sixty-five percent of women living in a Taliban-controlled area and 73% of women in Pakistan exposed to Taliban policies expressed suicidal ideation at the time of the study, compared with 18% of those in a non-Taliban controlled area. More than 90% of both women and men expressed support for equal work and educational opportunities, free expression, protection of women's rights, participation of women in government, and the inclusion of women's human rights concerns in peace talks. A majority of both women and men believed that guaranteeing civil and political rights (69%) and meeting basic needs (90%) were important for the health and development of their communities. Conclusions: In Afghanistan under the Taliban, policies restricting women's rights were not the product of years of tradition or of social and economic deprivation. Instead, they were man-made policies as easily and swiftly revoked as they were instituted. Depression rates among women in Afghanistan, especially in Taliban-controlled areas, were extraordinarily high. Current efforts to rebuild Afghanistan must address these high rates of depression and other mental health problems to ensure women's full participation in development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-587
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Women's Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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