Employment Discrimination in Afghanistan

In a new series of policy briefs, our YLFees discuss current political challenges and recommendations

Employment discrimination in Afghanistan takes place at an alarming rate and needs immediate attention from the government and policymakers.

Employment discrimination results from an integrated chain of multifaceted factors, including the patron-client system, corruption, and nepotism, within both the public and private sectors.

The legal environment is conducive to elevating employment discrimination. Some efforts to change this have taken place, though not sufficiently.

To tackle the problem, the victims of discrimination should be identified, and a quota system should be introduced to give them more chances.

Civil servants, managers, and the labor force should be aware of the long term effects of employment discrimination through continuous education mechanisms.

Afghanistan is a country with one of the highest rates of unemployment in the region. Poverty and lack of government ability to create employment opportunities have both contributed to the problem. Unemployment feeds corruption, increases white-collar crime, criminal activities, mental health issues, and even upsurges in youths joining criminal gangs and even terrorist organizations for economic gains. Keeping in mind that the country enjoys having an educated young generation graduating yearly from universities and schools, there is a slightly increased unemployment rate within the population compared to past decades.  Unemployment can be considered to be a crisis for the country.

In countries such as Afghanistan, unbalanced development, government investments, lack of transparent local governance, and insecurity have contributed to the concentration of control over important recruitment into the hands of influential individuals instead of a well-regulated system. Politicians tend to be biased to their constituents and personalities that helped them with their position to stay in the government. These elements together contribute to an increase in employment discrimination.

Several victims of this phenomenon claimed that almost no one in the country has been able to get hired unless they are politically connected. In recent years, finding employment opportunities or getting recruited into the government without a network and contact has almost become impossible. The critical factors contributing to discrimination in Afghanistan are politically motivated appointments, low pay for civil servants (which eventually leads to many forms of corruption), nepotism, gender-based discrimination, and the ethnic and linguistic preferences of the recruiting agency.

Current Legal Context:

The 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan, as the primary law of the country, states in Article Twenty-Two that any discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, men, and women have equal rights and duties before the law.

Furthermore, the Constitution refers to the Labor Law to explain the necessary measures to establish employment relations. The second paragraph of Article Two of Labor Law explicitly considers job equality and protecting the employee's rights. Under this law, Afghan citizens are guaranteed the right to work, fair treatment, equitable pay, pensions, health, and safety at the workplace.

Article 10 of the 2008 Civil Servants Law indicates that civil servants' rights and duties are ratified to clarify civil servants' rights and responsibilities in Afghanistan. This code also clearly stated that "no form of discrimination is allowed in recruiting civil servants based on gender, ethnicity, religion, and disability."

Main Findings:

The main factors contributing to discrimination in employment include

  • The lack of transparency and fairness in the government's recruitment system. Currently, the government lacks a unified approach to recruit civil servants. Instead, there are multiple ways by which individuals are recruited to civil servant positions or other political, managerial opportunities.
  • The existence of multiple recruitment channels include the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commissions, decrees by the President, orders by the ministers and higher-level managers, requests for advisors and additional support staff, and their approval.
  • The practice of recommendations of individuals by members of elected bodies, politicians, warlords, and religious figures to relevant agencies that are inevitably hired due to the agency's bias.
  • The concentration of power in the hands of politicians, which frequently further bypass the government's already broken recruitment system. For example, the Minister of Finance has hired more than 40 people in the customs offices and revenue offices with Parliament members' recommendations without assessing the need for their employment or recruitment via the government system.
  • Hiring based on nepotism and political biases, which eventually leads to hiring based on gender, ethnicity, language, religion, and loyalty. Most of the Office of the Second Vice President's key positions, for example, are given to individuals from the second vice president's ethnicity.

The factors and problems mentioned above regarding employment discrimination have or will contribute to the following issues which in the long-term will severely harm the governance and national security of Afghanistan:

  • Among the unemployed individuals who faced discrimination could be easy recruits for the armed opposition. Those individuals are disappointed and easily lured into armed groups.
  • An increase in mental health-related issues became a significant problem in families and, eventually, a major issue for the government.
  • Rise in ethnic, political, linguistic, religious, and geographically-based divisions.
  • Inefficiency and corruption in the government's services caused by recruiting individuals with insufficient and irrelevant education and experience.
  • Lack of government accountability and responsiveness to its citizens that can eventually lead to a lack of trust.
  • Immigration of the professional workforce from the country.


To tackle the problem of employment discrimination as a whole and its effects, the following policy points are suggested:

  • Supporting the rule of law and implementing existing laws through executive bodies; continued monitoring of the execution of anti-discrimination employment laws.
  • Creating a unified and transparent government recruitment system for civil servants in the government where individuals are assured that no discrimination will be made on a political, religious, ethnic, linguistic, or geographic basis.
  • Immediately addressing discrimination on the basis mentioned above, a quota system shall be created for the victims of discrimination and groups affected by this phenomenon.
  • To tackle this phenomenon in the long-term, the government shall make sure that its investments in development, infrastructure, job creation, education, and health are made on a fair balance and that vulnerable groups are prioritized.
  • Continuing to educate mid and higher-level civil servants and government managers on tackling employment discrimination based on gender, language, ethnicity, and political bias.
  • Creating an independent body to audit recruitment in the government that will report to Parliament and the general public.
  • Developing a long-term government strategy on the continued reform of its structure, recruitment system, and civil servants' training to tackle this issue.

Sonia Azatyar is a member of the 2020/21 Young Leaders Forum.

This article has also been published in Dari by Afghanistan Today. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.



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