Afghan Women, War and Peace-building

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A year after President Obama’s troop surge to Afghanistan, new poll results published yesterday in The Washington Post show that Afghans are less confident in the United States and its allies to provide security and are more willing to negotiate with the Taliban. More than half of Afghans surveyed nationwide said that U.S. and NATO should begin to withdraw troops from their country by mid-2011 or earlier. But buried deep in this front-page news story summarizing the poll results is a brief paragraph mentioning a 13-point jump since last year in the number of those surveyed who said that Afghan women’s rights are suffering. The situation of Afghan women’s lives and what this poll statistic means must be taken into full consideration in discussions of reconciliation with the Taliban, U.S./NATO troop withdrawal and political, diplomatic solutions to the war. The perceived decline in Afghan women’s rights, as reflected in the poll, must not be taken as a justification for continued foreign occupation by U.S. and NATO troops.

A timely report from the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at University of Notre Dame sheds some light on how Afghan women’s rights can be protected while pursuing political, peaceful ends to the conflict. The report, “Afghan Women Speak: Enhancing Security and Human Rights in Afghanistan,” argues that a militarized environment does not help Afghan women and girls move forward in securing and protecting their rights.

In field interviews with more than 50 parliamentarians, health workers, Afghan women leaders, activists and nongovernmental organization staff, researchers David Cortright and Sarah Smiles Persinger discovered that women are victimized from violence between foreign forces and insurgents, criminal gangs, local government and police chiefs. The report states that this insecurity not only directly impacts women’s access to education, employment and healthcare, but also reinforces their seclusion and their family’s control over them. According to the report, insecurity, war and militarization have also led to increased sexual assault and rape of women, early and forced marriage and trafficking of women and girls.

An excerpt:

“A group of women in Kandahar, where military operations are ongoing, told researchers for a British government report that their lives are no better now than they were under the Taliban:

‘It is like the Taliban times for women now. We are in the same situation as then. We cannot come out of the house to earn extra money or get an education. The only difference is that our honor was safe then but it is not now.’”

In conclusion, the report supports:

  • the negotiation of a political solution with insurgent groups; gradual demilitarization to reduce armed conflict coupled with an interim protection forced under the U.N.
  • meaningful representation of women in all peace negotiations and post-conflict recovery planning in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1889.
  • a political agreement and draw-down in foreign troops to be tied to a social contract that provides for long-term, sustainable investment in aid projects that support Afghan women and families.
  • U.S. and NATO governments granting asylum to women who face continuing threats on their lives for their perceived association with Western interests.

In policymaking circles, political discussions and media reporting, Afghan women’s lives are marginalized from major war and peace strategies or seen as a separate area of “development” concerns. The research done by David Cortright and Sarah Smiles Persinger place feminist concerns front-and-center in the discussion over the direction of U.S.-led military operations and the political future of Afghanistan.


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