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.
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Concerns about the status and future of Afghan women come after a decade of considerable progress, yet as threats to that progress intensify – sometimes in shocking fashion.Skip to next paragraph
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About 3 million Afghan girls are in school – more than one-third of the school population – a decade after Taliban rule that kept girls home. But at the same time, the Taliban continue to ban girls from school in the areas they control, and they burn schools for girls and threaten and kill girls’ teachers in disputed areas. Earlier this year insurgents sickened the girls at one school by poisoning the water supply.
Women won more seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections than the law mandated, and a few women are judges and prosecutors.
Earlier this year, at a meeting of the US-Afghan Women’s Council, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called protecting Afghan women’s rights a “red line” for the US. But she acknowledged that forces are arrayed to weaken the progress already made.
“There are always going to be those, not only in Afghanistan, who want to roll back progress for women and impose second-class citizenship on women,” she said. But she insisted the US “will not waver on this point,” adding that “any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all.”
Afghan women concur that warnings are multiplying of a backsliding on rights as the Western presence wanes. One example: a statement issued earlier this year by the country’s religious leaders, or Ulema Council, advocating segregation of the sexes in Afghan society, including in schools, a ban on women traveling unaccompanied by a male relative, and respect for polygamy. It was not refuted by Karzai.
“President Karzai is in a position where he has to appease the Taliban and also work with the international community,” said Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women.
“What we heard back from the palace was that this [Ulema statement] was only a consultation,” added Hasina Safi, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Education Center in Kabul. “There have been gains” for women, she added, but this example demonstrated how “they need to be more specific” and institutionalized.
Representative Schakowsky said such examples underscore exactly why women can’t simply be seen as the beneficiaries of rights granted by someone else, but must be a part of the discussions that deliberate on those rights – including at forums like the NATO Summit.
“It’s not just about women’s rights, it’s about women being part of the process that creates an enduring peace” in Afghanistan, she said. Citing a favorite saying, she added, “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu. So women need to be there.”
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