There is consistent evidence indicating that “the Taliban and its messages are gaining ground” in recent years, according to Candace Rondeaux, Kabul-based senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group, a non-profit aimed at preventing and resolving deadly conflicts.
In February 2012, forces of the ousted regime poisoned hundreds of schoolgirls and three teachers in an attempt to shut down girls’ schools before NATO’s withdrawal. The Afghan security forces, plagued by corruption, lack of education and increasing tensions with its western counterparts, have very limited ability to protect women from the Taliban and other extreme elements in Afghan society.
The power struggle in Afghanistan means the protection of women’s rights is likely to be used as a bargaining chip. The Afghanistan government has not demonstrated sufficient will to protect women because President Hamid Karzai is in a very tenuous position. It is the presence of tens of thousands of western troops that has kept him in office over the last decade. To remain in power after 2014, he has to appeal to the conservative faction of Afghan society and this means possible retraction of women’s rights promotion.
In March, President Karzai endorsed the discriminatory edicts from the country’s Ulema Council (men are considered fundamental; women, secondary) under mounting pressure to get the Taliban back to the negotiation table. The Afghan’s Peace Council, established to have peace talks with the ousted regime, has just nine women of 69 members. Farkhunda Naderi, Kabul representative in the lower house of the Afghanistan National Assembly, said it was “very difficult” to make their voices heard.
However, what has been gained is too precious to be lost. Under the anti-education Taliban, girls above the age of eight have been prohibited from attending school since 1998. Now, more than a third of all school children are girls. Women are increasingly active participants in domestic affairs: There are female doctors, journalists, police, politicians, teachers, etc. They want to keep fighting for their rights and they are fighting every single day. Zalmai Rassoul, minister of foreign Affairs of Afghanistan called the promotion of women’s rights “irreversible” and said it has very deep roots in Afghan society.
There is hope for women in Afghanistan and much of it depends on unwavering international support. How NATO plans a responsible withdrawal is key. It took 10 years for women in Afghanistan to rise from a status where they were not regarded as human beings to where they are today. NATO’s exit will happen in two years.
As Naderi said, “What you could accomplish in 10 years you could not accomplish in two years.” NATO, as well as the entire international community, must continue its pledge to Afghanistan for the sake of the country’s women. It must train and educate Afghan security forces, especially female security forces and help put women in Afghanistan’s Supreme Court so that women’s voices can be heard much more clearly among Afghan elites.
The most important thing to do is the promotion of education. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, only 12.6 percent of women in Afghanistan above the age of 15 can read and write. Most women don’t know they have the right to defend themselves. Educating women is a way of incorporating them into the peace talks with Taliban so they can have a say in how this country should be run. Meanwhile, it is very important to realize that education should be extended to the entire society. Afghanistan needs more male leaders who are more open to women’s rights and can come to the forefront and do the right thing.
“They can make a big difference because they are in a position to influence so many others,” said Melanne Verveer, the U.S Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, an office under the U.S. Department of State seeking to empowering women globally, “Don’t underestimate for a second what it means when people are educated and when they are not .”