Who will protect women’s rights in Afghanistan after the troops withdraw?

Emergencies, In the field, Women's rights article written on the 21 Feb 2013

A delegation of Afghan MPs and community leaders visited Parliament House last week to push for Australia’s political leaders to help protect women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Women in Afghanistan face an uncertain future as Australia and other international forces prepare to withdraw troops in 2014.

Ms Shinkai Karokhil, an independent member of the Afghan parliament since 2005, says life has improved for women in her country, but there is still a long way to go to ensure women’s voices are heard and their rights are protected.

“The woman of Afghanistan today is absolutely different from woman of Afghanistan from yesterday,” Ms Karokhil told Oxfam Australia.

“The opportunity to learn and participate, we have it … But 80 per cent of women in Afghanistan are illiterate still. More than 90 per cent of women have suffered from domestic violence. So lots of problems exist, life is not absolutely fantastic for women.”

The delegation, which included male and female Afghan political leaders, met with a range of Australian MPs and Senators in Canberra, including deputy Opposition leader and shadow Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop.

The group called for the government to make women’s rights in Afghanistan a core priority for Australia’s UN Security Council term, to make Afghanistan a priority country for Australia’s national action plan for women, peace and security and to prioritise gender equality in AusAID’s new country strategy for Afghanistan, focusing on investing in Afghan institutions and women’s organisations.

To date, much of the aid sent to Afghanistan has been spent on security rather than people and development. Ms Karokhil said she hopes to see more focus on girls’ education and the future empowerment of women.

“Things will change,” Ms Karokhil said. “Women are different today and they will be stronger tomorrow. My daughter will be stronger than me. That’s why things will change for the women of Afghanistan. The struggle has been started.”

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