Friday, October 7, 2011 marked the ten-year anniversary of the presence of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. According to an ActionAid report, 90 percent of Afghan women surveyed said they are worried about the Taliban “returning to government and believe it would risk the gains made for women in the past ten years.” As ActionAid’s Director of Policy Belinda Calaguas said, “In 2001 our leaders went into war in Afghanistan saying that improving women’s rights was a goal of intervention. Ten years on as the international community begins withdrawing troops and enters into peace talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, women are being frozen out of the process and are worried that their rights are being traded away for peace.”
Historically, women have been the primary victims of violence and oppression in Afghanistan. Now, looking to the future and the violence still endured by women, it is extremely difficult to envision a peaceful future without the greater inclusion of women in the peacemaking process.
To exclude one of the primary stakeholders in the decision-making process would be detrimental not just to women, but to the country as a whole. Without assurances that women will be involved and heard and that there will be legal, procedural, and cultural safeguards in place, the progress of the past ten years hangs in the balance.
Just as the exclusion of women is a concern for Afghanistan, so too is the upcoming absence of U.S. troops as they prepare to withdraw. While the presence of U.S. and coalition forces has been flawed and has faced many challenges in Afghanistan, the growing incidence of violence, particularly against human- and gender-rights activists, raises concerns about what is to come without the same level of military and security forces.
So with less physical protection (in the same ActionAid report, 66 percent of women surveyed in Afghanistan said that they feel safer now than they did ten years ago) and no significant cultural and legal safeguards, will women in Afghanistan be more vulnerable than ever, despite the progress made during the past decade?
One can only hope the decision-makers already at the table make room, or, until they have made more room, make wise decisions based not on re-elections or comfort or sheer power, but on the best interests and best way forward for every man, child, and woman in Afghanistan.