Social welfare in Afghanistan has traditionally relied on family and tribal organization. In the villages and small towns, a tax is levied on each man to benefit the poor. Disabled people are cared for in social welfare centers in the provincial capitals. Most other welfare activities are still unorganized and in private hands. In the early 1990s, a social insurance system provided old age, disability, and survivors' pensions, sickness and maternity benefits, and workers' compensation.
Women have traditionally had few rights in Afghanistan, with their role limited largely to the home and the fields. Advances in women's rights were made from 1920 onward, and by the time of the communist coup, women attended school in large numbers, voted and held government jobs—including posts as cabinet ministers, and were active in the professions. The Communist regime also promoted women's rights, but the victory of the extremely conservative Taliban in 1996 reversed this trend. Strict limits on the freedoms of women were put in place. Women were only allowed to appear in public if they were dressed in a chadri, or burka, a long black or blue garment with a mesh veil covering the face, and only if accompanied by a male. The Taliban also banned girls from attending school, and prohibited women from working outside the home. Certain restrictions on women were reportedly lifted in 1998. Women were allowed to work as doctors and nurses as long as they treated only women, and were able to attend medical schools. Widows with no means of support were allowed to seek employment.
The human rights record of the governing Taliban was extremely poor. Taliban forces were responsible for disappearances and political killings, including massacres and summary executions. In areas controlled by the Taliban, Islamic courts and religious police imposed strict order based on conservative interpretations of Islamic law that mandated, among other measures, public execution for adultery and amputation for theft. Homes were burned and livestock destroyed in a military offensive in the summer of 1999 that resulted in the forcible relocation of many civilians. Basic freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and association were abridged under Taliban rule.
With the end of the Taliban, women and girls were permitted to attend schools and universities, and the enforced wearing of the burka was ended. Men were allowed to shave, music and television were permitted, and a host of Taliban-imposed restrictions on society ended. A broad-based, pluralistic society is being fostered, with a high degree of respect for human rights and basic freedoms.