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As the US and other ISAF troops prepare to leave Afghanistan women in Afghanistan wonder what will happen to them? Don't get me wrong, neither I nor many Afghans in general want the foreign troops there forever. But what I think most Afghan (in particular women) worry about is how many of their hard earned rights will be traded away and are quite upset with their lack of participation in talks with foreign and Afghan governments regarding continued aid etc.

Girl from Helmand in IDP camp in Kabul. By: Kim OConnor

In the recent days I have read quite a few articles about this, for example:

As Nato pullout looms, Afghan women face uncertain future
In March 2012, the Ulema Council’s declaration regarding women, and Karzai’s reverberation of the same declaration, led many to believe that that Afghanistan is once again moving towards the same era of Talibanisation. Part 1C, Section F of the declaration stated that women ‘should avoid mingling with stranger men in various social situations, such as education, shopping, the office and other affairs of life.’ Part D goes on to say: ‘Men are fundamental and women are secondary; also, lineage is derived from the man.’  The declaration, in addition, condemns violence against a women ‘without a Shariah-compliant reason’ – not addressing the likelihood of domestic violence in response to a Shariah-compliant reason.

President Karzai publicly endorsed the declaration by the Council terming it as “reiterating Islamic principles and values.” Many believe that President Karzai’s desire to end the Taliban insurgency through peace talks would cost women to compromise their hard-won rights of 2001.There exists a rising fear that if the Taliban are allowed to rejoin the Afghan government and society without accountability for their actions in the last decade, the country would once again see the public stonings, hangings and beheadings that marked their time in power previously.

“If Afghanistan sees a new era with warlords in the governmental system, we can’t do anything for women rights as these warlords are the biggest violators and oppressors,” says Shama. Her words draw attention to the fact that although women have a higher stake in the outcome of peace negotiations with the Taliban and the development of government policy, their visibility in the process hardly reflects this.

Afghanistan set up a Peace Council that is supposed to navigate how they can negotiate with the Taliban (those willing to talk that is, which does not include Omar or others in Quetta Pakistan). The problem is the women were sidelined as usual, but they did their best to fight back.
The 70-member High Peace Council, which has been struggling to carve out a role in the negotiations since the assassination of its chief, Burhanuddin Rabbani, last year, has nine women.

Safi, who is also a member of parliament from the northern province of Balkh, said women were not opposed to holding negotiations with the Taliban so long as rights enshrined in the constitution were protected.

She said the women on the peace council had set up a committee to ensure issues related to women were addressed by the council in negotiations with the Taliban.

"Our mission is to figure out how to keep the role of women active in the High Peace Council and not have our presence serve only as a statistic," she said.

While attention has been focused on the Taliban, women in Afghanistan had concerns that the Karzai administration itself may give up some of the gains made in recent years, she said.

In some parts of the country the Taliban are already in control of law and order, and their swift justice, while offensive to us, is quick and without corruption (you cannot buy your way out of punishment with the Taliban, unlike the official "justice" system)


Afghan woman accused of adultery shot dead in public

A man Afghan officials say is a member of the Taliban shot dead a woman accused of adultery in front of a crowd near Kabul, a video obtained by Reuters showed, a sign that the austere Islamist group dictates law even near the Afghan capital.

... fears are rising among Afghan women, some lawmakers and rights activists that such freedoms could be traded away as the Afghan government and the United States pursue talks with the Taliban to secure a peaceful end to the war.

Violence against women has increased sharply in the past year, according to Afghanistan's independent human rights commission. Activists say there is waning interest in women's rights on the part of President Hamid Karzai's government.

"After 10 years (of foreign intervention), and only a few kilometres from Kabul … how could this happen in front of all these people?" female lawmaker Fawzia Koofi said of the public execution in Parwan.

"This is happening under a government that claims to have made so much progress in women's rights, claims to have changed women's lives, and this is unacceptable. It is a huge step backwards," said Koofi, a campaigner for girls' education who wants to run in the 2014 presidential election.

Salangi said two Taliban commanders were sexually involved with the woman in Parwan, either through rape or romantically, and decided to torture her and then kill her to settle a dispute between the two of them.

"They are outlaws, murderers, and like savages they killed the woman," he said, adding that the Taliban exerted considerable sway in his province.

Earlier the same week a woman and two of her children were beheaded by her divorced husband.

Where are the candidates on this issue? Unfortunately we hear very little about women in Afghanistan from President Obama or Mitt Romney. From the UK Telegraph:

The ‘war on women’ being waged in Afghanistan

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have accused one another of waging a "war on women" in America. But both are silent on the real war against women being waged by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
...
If still unmoved by these recent attacks, both American candidates should spare a thought for fellow politician Fawzia Koofi, for whom dodging Taliban bullets and grenades is part of daily life in her campaign to become President of Afghanistan in 2014. Koofi is the first woman to have been elected into Afghanistan’s parliament – in fact she was elected twice. Yet she fears for her life; several years ago she was shot at while on the road with her two daughters. Koofi remains caught between trying to shelter her children from the Taliban’s threats and attempted attacks, and preparing them to face life alone, should her tormentors be successful.
..
But when asked what America’s policy would be towards women throughout withdrawal from Afghanistan, a senior State Department officer gave a shrug of an answer, dismissing women’s rights in Afghanistan as a "pet project" rather than a priority.
Using women as pawns in presidential power struggles – both in the West and Afghanistan and as collateral damage to the gains of withdrawal – is a far cry from the freedoms the West claims to stand for. Obama needs to pick the right side in the real war on women.

The article recounts some recent events in Afghanistan. I would really like to hear what Obama and Romney plan to do to get our military home, while doing what we can to help keep the hard earned rights gained by so many Afghans since we got there.
Photobucket

*The Taliban are doing everything they can to close as many schools as possible before the 2014 pullout. (A girls school run by the organization i volunteer with was just shut by the Taliban in Wardak, so I know this is happening first hand.) At least 600 schools have been shut in recent months.

*Hundreds of schoolgirls were sickened by poisoned water at their school well.

*125 girls and three teachers poisoned in their school by some type of gas. A few days later the same school had 40 more students sickened.

*At another school, another school 160 girls were poisoned.

*Boys are not immune either, over 400 were sickened at their school in Khost province.

*In another incident, pupils from a mixed school in southern Afghanistan had to watch as their teacher and headmaster were executed for refusing to follow the Taliban’s warnings to stop educating girls.

There are many more instances of these attacks, most never make it into English language news sources.

While many men in Afghanistan are what we could consider very backwards in their views on women and their rights, the younger generation is changing this dynamic. Thanks to education and access to the internet and international news and TV programs, I fully believe that they can find a good balance between tradition and oppression. Their main roadblock is war. If there is another civil war the younger generation will find it much harder, many will leave the country. This is what happened in the late 70's through the 80's, the educated left.

This would be a shame, as the young people I know there are so driven, work so hard on getting their education and job experience and really want a peaceful and normal life with their families.

In this story the author runs into a student at Kabul University who had recently been released after being kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban. The student insisted on carrying the author's box of books.

By the looks of the boy, I was not sure he could hold my books. He was malnourished and about 20 pounds lighter than the last time I saw him. I told the student that I could carry the load. Refusing to let me do the work, he grabbed the box and said, “Teacher, don’t worry about these heavy books. I carried around ammunition and weapons for the Taliban for the last month. I know I have lost some weight during my time in prison, and my skin looks dark, but I have gotten so much stronger. Give me your books!” How could I argue with that? I relinquished the books.
...
My young, cheery driver does just this; he lives his life by his own rules. According to tradition, because he only finished high school and has a low-paying job, he should marry a girl of the same status. But he refused to follow this path.

He said, “…Because I am such a determined boy, I [married] the most beautiful girl in the world!” His wife graduated from university with her degree in pharmacy and now manages a store in Canada. My driver smiled shyly in the rearview mirror when he informed me that his wife drives herself to work. When I asked him if he minded that she was independent, he told me that he loves her a lot and is proud of her. “Nothing else matters.” He said.

But how does he keep in contact with her? Nonchalantly, he told me, “I chat with her on Facebook four times on Fridays. I wake up, do my ablutions and pray, then run to my computer to call her. Each time I pray, I finish quickly and call her!”

Without any higher education, without social status, access to libraries, and with a meager salary, my driver has found a way to fill his own hands with happiness.

I do not know what is going to happen in the coming years in Afghanistan, but my worst fear is that another civil war will break out, turning back so much of the progress that has been realized there.

I am writing this today to ask everyone to consider the human beings we will leave behind there and consider our responsibility to them. We and other countries have used Afghanistan to fight our proxy wars for many years now, leaving their nation in ruin. I think the world has a responsibility to the Afghan people. At the very least help them get the education and opportunities they need to prosper and succeed. I know they can do it if given the chance.

Originally posted to kimoconnor on Thu Jul 26, 2012 at 02:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets , Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, and RaceGender DiscrimiNATION.

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