Don't lock women out of Afghanistan's future

To fail to support the women of Afghanistan now would not only be morally reprehensible but strategically unwise.

What does the future hold for the women of Afghanistan?
Megan Moore
On 5 December 2011 12:26

UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, Megan Moore has reflected: "I'm young, I make mistakes, what can I say."

The inclusion of the Afghan Women's Network at the Bonn Conference on the future of Afghanistan was a close-run thing. For a time it seemed that, of the ninety delegations to the conference, not one would be there to promote the cause of women's rights.

Eventually it was announced that the conference would indeed take the concerns of Afghan women into account - whether as a result of pressure from the US State Department or fear of angry British feminists we will never know - but, as Human Rights Watch has observed, the Bonn Conference's organisers 'do not appear to have made women’s rights a priority for the meeting.' If this is true, it is deeply disappointing: not simply because it is an insult to the courage and resilience of Afghanistan's women, but because it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the vital role these women play in ensuring Afghanistan can never again become an incubator of global terrorism.

In his book The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright notes that before the Taliban came to power, 40 percent of doctors, 50 percent of government workers, and 70 percent of teachers in Afghanistan were women. This meant that when the Taliban called an immediate end to work and education for women, the country's civil service, healthcare system and primary education system were effectively obliterated.

With 50 percent of its population trapped in subservience and destitution, no longer able to contribute to their communities, Afghan civil society began to break down - creating a situation in which violent ideology could flourish. It would seem obvious, therefore, that safeguarding women's rights to education, employment and freedom of movement should be a key aim of any attempt to establish long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan of the kind being discussed at Bonn.

The ten years since the NATO invasion have certainly seen improvement for women's rights. Currently a third of all politicians, a quarter of all government workers, and 39 percent of schoolchildren are female. Furthermore, research by ActionAidUK has found that 72 percent of Afghan women feel their lives are better now than they were a decade ago, and 66 percent feel safer.

But these gains could easily be lost if the Taliban regains power. 'All women's achievements are very fragile,' Dr Soraya Sobhrang, the Commissioner of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, has told ActionAidUK. 'With a change in government they could collapse.' 

The women of Afghanistan still have far to go in their fight for a just society. Advocacy groups are underfunded, with their members operating under threat of violence and intimidation and their work often ignored by the international community. Having survived life under a brutally and rabidly misogynistic regime, these women now hold the key to the prosperity and stability of their country.

To fail to support them now would not only be morally reprehensible but strategically unwise. 

UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, Megan Moore has reflected: "I'm young, I make mistakes, what can I say."

Megan Moore is the Deputy Chairman of the Isle of Wight branch of Conservative Future. 

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