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At NATO summit on Afghanistan, few women's voices heard

Afghan women and international rights advocates are growing increasingly concerned that a decade-long focus on expanding Afghan women’s rights will go when US and NATO forces leave.

By Staff writer / May 20, 2012

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during their meeting at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Sunday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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CHICAGO

With the US and NATO planning the departure of their forces from Afghanistan by December 2014, some Afghan women and international rights advocates are growing increasingly concerned that a decade-long focus on expanding Afghan women’s rights will go with them.

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As NATO leaders – mostly men, it’s fair to say – assembled in Chicago to plan the transition to a fully Afghan-led security effort next year, another gathering – this one of Afghan and American women – focused on the need to protect Afghan women’s educational, social, and political gains over the last decade.

“We have to ensure that our commitment to Afghan women does not end as our troops come home,” said US Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) of Illinois, at a conference Sunday that laid out an eight-point plan for safeguarding and strengthening Afghan women’s rights.

RECOMMENDED: How well do you know Afghanistan? Take our quiz.

Amnesty International, which sponsored Sunday’s conference, called it a “shadow summit” in part because women, and Afghan women in particular, are largely absent from the NATO gathering taking place at the same time.

The Afghan delegation to the NATO summit led by President Hamid Karzai originally included no women, according to Frank Januzzi, director of Amnesty International’s Washington office. But at least two women were added, including one female member of the Afghan Parliament, when prominent Afghan women protested the absence.

“We were told the Chicago [NATO] summit has nothing to do with us women,” said Mahbouba Seraj, an Afghan women’s and children’s advocate, describing the explanation the Afghan presidential palace originally offered when asked about the all-male Chicago delegation. But she said she and other members of the Afghan Women’s Network considered it crucial that “we bring the voices of the voiceless women of Afghanistan.”

The eight steps called for by Amnesty International and endorsed in an open letter sent to President Obama and Mr. Karzai include significant participation by women in peace talks with the Taliban, institutionalized guarantees of women’s rights in any reconciliation agreements with the Taliban, creation of a fund targeted at sustaining and enhancing women’s rights, and specific training of security forces to protect women against violence, including domestic violence.

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