Women in Afghanistan, 10 years on

Friday, 7 October 2011

Will Afghanistan's women see more positive changes in their lives in the decade to come? Many fear the future.

This Friday will mark the 10th anniversary of the US and British military intervention in Afghanistan. Its goal? To dismantle the al-Qaeda organization, remove the Taliban from power and create a more democratic state. In the last decade, billions have been spent, thousands have died - but the war has ensured that progress has been made.

As this anniversary approaches, organizations are assessing the effect the last decade has had on the people of Afghanistan, and plans are being made for the country's future. We can expect much discussion and assessment from world leaders, ahead of a conference in Bonn in December, where representatives from 90 countries will come together to talk about the country's future and plans for withdrawal of troops, currently planned from 2014 onwards.
Several organizations have this week released documents focusing on the situation for Afghanistan's women and among them is A Just Peace? - a report from ActionAid, which has obtained a rare insight into the lives of Afghan women by polling them about the issues that matter to them.

One of the major promises made by politicians ten years ago was that life for women would improve as a result of the war. The situation for women under the Taliban is now notorious, characterized by violence, forced marriage, a ban on having a job, no going to school beyond the age of eight, restricted access to healthcare, and restrictions on appearing in public.

After the fall of the Taliban, equal rights were enshrined in the country's new constitution and women are now, in theory, free to do the things they could not before. But it's not that simple. Women still continue to suffer discrimination such as forced marriage and domestic violence. Women who take an active role in public life are the targets of attacks and threats. Many women vote only on the direction of their husband or father. There is concern that they are also being "frozen out" of the peace process, which could have dire consequences should the country see a return to Taliban control. Just recently, Afghanistan was named as the second-worst place in the world to be a woman.

Without the participation of women in political decisions, the clock could be turned back on the gains made. And as ActionAid's report shows, Afghan women are deeply concerned about this. Almost three quarters of those ActionAid talked to said they felt their lives today are better than they were 10 years ago.

Unsurprisingly, 86% of those surveyed said they were worried about a return to Taliban-style government, rising to 92% in urban areas. One in five of these cited their daughters' education as their main concern here, while another major concern across women of all ages was sexual assault. In fact, more women singled it out as their biggest fear above abduction, being kidnapped, and being caught in an explosion combined.

So going forward, what do Afghan women want? They want to see an end to conflict in their country, but they also want their rights respected and are clear that they do not want a government that does not give them equality. This is why ActionAid and other organizations are calling on the international community to ensure that they support this vital part of the peace process, consider funding struggling women's rights groups in Afghanistan and fully include women in decision-making.

How can you get involved this week? For a start, take a look at this video giving a glimpse into women's lives, 10 years on.

Check out the #10yearson hashtag on Twitter to join in the discussion, share links and raise awareness of the importance of this Friday. Urge your MP to acknowledge how crucial women's rights in Afghanistan are. 

Earlier this week, Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi spoke at a session at the Conservative Party's conference in Manchester. She has already urged David Cameron to make sure Afghan women's lives are at the top of the international agenda. The UK government can make a difference and you could help.

On Friday, the No Women No Peace network, which includes ActionAid, will be launching actions, including a petition to the government, to mark the anniversary of military intervention. Follow @nowomennopeace for more information.

This post originally appeared on BitchBuzz. Image via DVIDSHUB's Flickr.

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