Educating Afghan girls and ensuring their safety are essential steps in the development process of Afghanistan. This could begin by inviting a spectrum of Afghan women, who have demonstrated a strong commitment and have made significant contributions in the areas of political, economic and social development, to address the conference concerning changing the status for women in the country and the need for the international community to ensure their future rights. Those rights will not be guaranteed by talks without action.
Among high ranking government officials, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to attend the conference. This event is of high value to the women of Afghanistan because the country’s future is at stake. We strongly believe that courageous Afghan women, who at personal risk and despite the dire security situation have worked hard to advance education, employment and healthcare opportunities for women in different parts of the country, should be welcomed to communicate their concerns and the priorities for women to the nation of Afghanistan. One blazing example of the many brave Afghan women is Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder and director of the Afghan Institute of Learning and recipient of the 2010 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. Dr. Yacoobi is a champion of women’s human rights in the country. She has worked untiringly to improve the quality of life for Afghan women through education and healthcare.
Achieving greater rights for Afghan women has been an important aspect of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan. President Obama stressed this issue in his State of the Union Address: “We stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan.” This is an encouraging message for an Afghan girl who, notwithstanding imminent danger to her life, continues with her education. Over the past nine years some milestones have been accomplished in moving women’s rights forward: more girls are attending school, women are back in their jobs, they’re entering the political sphere, taking part in business, and a few are driving in Kabul. But women still suffer from the horrendous disease of illiteracy that leads to violence against them and their lack of awareness about their rights. How many Afghans know about EVAWL (Elimination of Violence against Women Law), for instance?
The obstacles facing Afghan women on different levels are countless. We have the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, illiteracy is staggering, and women face the lack of freedom of movement within the country. Talking about domestic violence is considered shameful, and some women are used as tokens in politics. We believe that educating girls is the key to overcoming these challenges. Three days ago, Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea, told The New York Times, “Education of girls is the real long-term fix.” The Afghan government and the international community need to be candid with those Afghan women from civil society and government who have the relevant skills and knowledge to become part of the decision-making process in the reconstruction of their country. They should not only listen to these women, but also carefully consider their recommendations in the peace and development process of Afghanistan.
Afghans, particularly Afghan women, have lost a great deal in the past thirty-two years. Not only does talking about an exit strategy discourage Afghans, but it also hurts the coalition operations in the country. Afghanistan is not a hopeless case as some would argue. In the past ten years, Afghans who have had the opportunity have worked themselves to the bones to bring peace and prosperity to their country. Afghans are tired of war.
We believe the international hesitation on whether to stay or leave Afghanistan is not the solution and only creates tension. The impact of such rhetoric is destructive and disheartening to Afghans and international aides who risk their lives to serve our country. Given the difficult situation in the country, the mission in Afghanistan requires time and patience. We are not asking for sympathy or charity; we are asking our international partners to stand by us in challenging times and not abandon us when the job is half-done.
Taking into consideration the country’s current state of affairs, women’s active participation in the Kabul Conference and other similar events is indispensable to a successful outcome. As mentioned, let us move beyond having women as mere listeners and passive participants in decision-making circles. Let’s listen to them not for the sake of fulfilling the quotas but because it is the right and smart thing to do. As Afghans who deeply care about the future of our motherland, we demand President Hamid Karzai and the international actors involved in Afghanistan invite competent women to be part of making decisions that affect the country’s future.
Shabana Basij-Rasikh is double majoring in International Studies and Women and Gender Studies and is the president of HELA Inc., a non-profit committed to helping Afghan women.
Zohra Safi holds a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and Women and Gender Studies from Middlebury College and will be attending S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah this fall.
- Exclusive Q&A with Ambassador Mark Sedwill
- NATO's Center of Gravity: Political Will
- Conference Paper: International Peacebuilding: An Analysis of Peacemaking in Afghanistan
- Atlantic Memo 22: Supporting Better Governance
- Women Must Have More Prominence in UN Forces