Afghan women risk losing hard-earned rights

Emergencies, In the field, Women's rights article written on the 01 Dec 2014

Photo: Lara McKinley/OxfamAUS

Afghan women risk losing their hard-earned rights after being excluded from Afghanistan’s peace negotiations with the Taliban. The new report released this week, “Behind Closed Doors,” discusses the risk of denying women a voice in determining Afghanistan’s future.

Wazhma Frogh, an Afghan Gender and Development Specialist, joins us today as a guest blogger:

Men have held all the power in my country for centuries. Generations of Afghan women have been deprived of education and denied our rights. We were never considered a threat to these men with guns, we were simply ignored.

Today, when I turn on my television in Kabul, all I see again are these old men with old values making the decisions that will impact me, and my daughter’s future.

Where are the women? Why are these men always talking about us, and the future of our country, behind closed doors?

After the fall of the Taliban regime 13 years ago, Afghanistan’s women were promised change. And, with help from the international community, things have improved. Millions of girls are now in school; laws are in place to protect women’s rights and punish those who abuse them; women sit in parliament; and we can walk freely in the streets.

But while these gains for Afghan women are one of the great victories of the war, there is still such a long way to go.

In the provinces, millions of women are still bound to their fathers, brothers, husbands and mothers-in-law. They are unable to leave the house without permission. They can’t work or go to school and learn how to read. For them, the last 13 years have essentially been the same as the 13 before.

Even in the cities, women’s rights are giving way to a rise of conservatism. Activists like me are threatened and attacked and even this week we saw the attempted assassination of outspoken female MP Shukria Barakzai.

Violence against women is at a record levels. Every other day there is a report of a murder, violence or rape in the media, and yet the cries of these women go unheard. Parliamentary quotas that guarantee Afghan women a voice in government were dropped in secret and without any consultation.

“Parliamentary quotas that guarantee Afghan women a voice in government were dropped in secret and without any consultation.

“Afghanistan’s recently elected President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah have been vocal women’s rights proponents, but now they have to live up to their promises. The absence of women in discussions regarding the new, national unity government is a huge cause for concern.

Afghan women demand more than Western rhetoric to justify a war or token promises to secure votes in an election. We need a real stake in deciding what happens next in our country.

As 2014 comes to an end, all Afghan women are worried about what the future may hold. Too many decisions are being made while we are not in the room. We know peace talks might soon begin, but without women present who can guarantee that women’s rights will not be traded for peace with the Taliban?

I named my little daughter’s name, Mohaddisa, an Arabic nickname for the Prophet’s daughter, whom he loved more than anything. It means “‘storyteller”’ in Dari. I hope hers will be a story in which she has all the opportunities and freedoms in the world. I hope it is not one of war, lost hope and powerlessness. Only time will tell which story she will be able to tell her own daughter one day.”

Unless Afghan women play an active role, one unintended legacy of the Afghan war will be Afghan women’s continued suppression into poverty, directly undermining Afghanistan’s future prosperity.

Oxfam is calling on Australia to make a sustained commitment to women’s rights in Afghanistan and to publicly promote their equal role in peace processes at the London Conference on Afghanistan this week.