At Afghanistan Summit This Week, Will Afghan Women Be at the Table?

When rich countries like the U.S., Japan, and NATO nations get together periodically to discuss the future of development funding for Afghanistan, who represents the interests of women and children who actually live there? Mostly men.

Even though research shows that durable security accords responsive to real conditions for civilians in war zones require women's participation in the planning stages. Even though United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 recognized this reality, and called for significant numbers of women to be present in all security talks.

On July 8-9 in Tokyo governments, international organizations, and other major donors will meet to discuss and take on financial commitments for a ten year period after 2014. As global players discuss funding Afghanistan's future development, will they continue the pattern of devoting 90% of funds to building the Afghan army and police forces? If they really want peace, they will invite Afghan women to the table and listen to their expert testimony on how to make Afghanistan a safe place for them and their families.

Fahima Vorgetts of the Afghan Women's Fund is one of a chorus of voices making what should be an obvious point: that more military or even policing does not represent more security for women. On an international conference call organized by CODEPINK June 27, Vorgetts shared her view. "Eleven years of war did not change the situation for women very much, especially in rural areas, and violence against women has escalated over the past few years. Those who commit crimes against women are not punished--laws protecting women's rights are not implemented. Afghan women are the victims of violence from three directions: NATO bombing, insurgents, and their own government, which protects religious groups and warlords in positions of authority, some of whom have private militias."

Environmental concerns are also made worse by war and impact women. During the past three decades of war an estimated 60-80% of the forests and orchards of Afghanistan were destroyed. Dr. Mariam Raqib of the reforestation organization Afghanistan Samsortya found that children were gathering scraps of plastic from trash heaps to bring home to their mothers as cooking fuel. Herbicides sprayed on the poppy crop affect people as well, and miscarriages and birth defects appear to be on the rise. It is sad but not surprising that Afghanistan continues to rank among the highest in the world in childhood and maternal mortality after more than a decade of NATO occupation. Where is the development money to address these problems?

Recently Amnesty International-USA held a shadow summit during the NATO summit in Chicago, May 2012. Bus shelter ads with the headline "NATO: KEEP THE PROGRESS GOING!" featured a photo of Afghan women fully covered by burkas. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who infamously said that half a million children's deaths under sanctions in Iraq were "worth it," was one of the shadow summit panelists, and the most prominent signer of an open letter to Presidents Karzai and Obama calling on them not to forget women's rights in talks for the transition that is supposed to commence in 2014, handing over security responsibility to the Afghan national government.

In London, Amnesty International (AI) screened a film Peace Unveiled, which followed a group of Afghan women trying to battle their way to winning votes in a male-dominated Parliament. Under Afghanistan's new constitution, women are entitled to 25% of seats in Parliament. According to attendee Mitra Qayoom of the group Afghans for Peace: "The documentary also showed Hillary Clinton shaking hands with these women and promising to help them in their fight for justice and women's rights in Afghanistan. But when it came time to do so, she ignored the voices of these women in a parliamentary meeting which also included Hamid Karzai and some of the prominent warlords. Clinton remained silent when questions were asked about the roles of women in parliament and in the peace process. So did Hamid Karzai. She did not defend them or even take notice of the issue; instead, she kept looking down.

When the documentary was over it was time for question and answer. The person answering the questions was none other than AI's Afghanistan researcher Horia Mosadiq. One girl asked:

'How can we here in Britain help Afghanistan and its women?' Horia's response to this question: 'By putting pressure on your government to keep the troops in Afghanistan and not to withdraw them after 2014.'"

Why AI would help NATO and the U.S. State Department push the false narrative of women's "progress" after eleven years of war is debatable. Members of the organization are presenting this question and being told that women's rights, education, and even health have prospered since the fall of the Taliban. In a country where women's life expectancy is 51 years, where women are jailed for adultery after being the victims of rape, and where deteriorating security means that many newly built schools stand empty, this is a specious claim.

The women's advocacy organization MADRE is partnering with the women-led peace and social justice group CODEPINK to create a twitterstorm July 2-8 calling for significant numbers of women to be at the table in Tokyo. Using the hashtag #AfghanWomen, tweeters hope to call attention to the need for representation beyond women from the Kabul elite to testify to what women all over Afghanistan really need: and end to war, real security, respect for the law, food, clean water, and access to education. Only then may we see authentic progress for all the people of Afghanistan.

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