A girl sits on her bed at an undisclosed Women for Afghan Women’s shelter. Young women are provided safe haven from gender-based crimes. Photo courtesy of Women for Afghan Women.
Operating off of a “kill list”, the Taliban has spent the last several weeks deliberately targeting Afghan working women and persons associated with women’s rights organizations. In Kunduz, a women’s shelter offering protection and education to victims of forced marriage, honor crimes, and domestic violence was deliberately destroyed by the Taliban.
Since gaining control of the southern provinces and eventually securing control of Kabul in 1994, the Taliban has articulated its terrorism frequently and consistently through its violent oppression of women. From the public stoning of women to denial of education for girls in the 90s, during their close to decade rule of Afghanistan, the Taliban waged a war of terror against Afghan women. While America’s intervention following the 9/11 attacks has been fraught with gaffes and has only garnered limited support from the American public, one thing can be said of the occupation: the women of Afghanistan have benefited.
“Since the beginning of the US occupation in 2001, Afghan women have made gains in all sectors including education, governance, and jurisprudence.”
Since the beginning of the US occupation in 2001, Afghan women have made gains in all sectors including education, governance, and jurisprudence. Female parliamentarians are advancing women’s voices; the state university in Kabul graduates close to a 1,000 women a year; girls threatened with underage marriage and honor violence now have support options through NGOs. Similar to the Afghan war itself, now the longest conflict engagement in United States history, support for Afghan women’s rights has waxed and waned, but President Obama’s recent decision to keep a light ground presence of roughly 10,000 troops in the country represents an important commitment to one of the few lasting justifications for an otherwise failed mission.
The wreckage of the Women for Afghan Women shelter in Kunduz following the targeted attack perpetrated by the Taliban. Photo courtesy of Women for Afghan Women.
“The United States will never succeed at state building, but it can ensure that the women of Afghanistan stand a fighting chance in the future by lending a hand to organizations and leaders who have proven themselves capable.”
The Taliban has capitalized on the gradual withdrawal of American troops to reclaim lost territories and move into regions that have enjoyed free rule since 2001. The threat this poses to girls and women is direct and terrifying. While the United States and its allies have been engaged in “State Building” for the last several years, it is unclear whether western coalitions will continue to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan.
While much of the burden of “State Building” in Afghanistan was handed over to private contractors with no prior experience of aid or humanitarianism, (which resulted in limited achievements), on the ground, locally run NGOs have made admirable headway and benefited from protection and an influx of international donations.
In this critical moment, Women for Afghan Women and other women’s rights organizations deserve our backing and commitment. Capital and military support needs to be diverted to locally operated organizations with long term commitment and cultural legitimacy. The United States will never succeed in creating a neo-Jeffersonian state in one of the poorest countries in the world, but it can ensure that the women of Afghanistan stand a fighting chance in the future by lending a hand to those who have proven themselves capable.
Afghan women may just turn out to be the demographic most capable of realizing a successful vision of Afghanistan’s future, but they require education, safety, and political representation to bring about change.