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Afghan women: Hopes and fears for the future

Source: Christian Aid - UK - Wed, 9 Nov 2011 02:35 PM
Author: Christian Aid / Johanna Rogers
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This October marks 10 years of international intervention in Afghanistan. Liberating its women was one of the justifications given for invading the country and toppling the Taliban – a regime that made female education illegal and forbade women to hold jobs or even to leave the house without a male family member. As momentum gathers towards a troop withdrawal, Christian Aid journalist Johanna Rogers went to hear the voices of women who fear that the clock could be turned back when the international forces pull out ‘I do not want to lose what we have achieved so far, and I do not want to go back to my previous life. A peace process should not come at any cost. I worry other countries may compromise to achieve a very superficial peace; they may make a mistake and ignore Afghan women and all Afghan citizens’ AfghAn MP Shinkai Kharokail voices the concerns of many throughout Afghanistan that women’s rights are being overlooked by the international community as it plans its withdrawal. They fear that the fragile progress towards greater equality could be reversed. They fear that the fragile progress towards greater equality could be reversed. ‘In 10 years we have achieved a lot, especially after five years of Taliban, when women were absolutely excluded from social, economic and political life. now women are everywhere, women are part of the decision-making process, part of development in this country,’ says Shinkai, founder-director of Christian Aid partner the Afghan Women’s Education Centre (AWEC), and renowned women’s rights activist, who has successfully lobbied for laws to protect women, including banning child marriage. however, as international forces start to pull out, Shinkai – and many like her – fear the implications of a possible resurgence of the Taliban. Fawzia Koofi MP, the first female elected as second deputy speaker of Parliament, explains: ‘There are three angles to the Afghan triangle: the government and international community, the Taliban, and the people. Unfortunately, the angle of the people is being ignored. how can we share power with the Taliban if they do not accept the Afghan constitution? how can we share power if they are unhappy with seeing a woman like me in Parliament?’ One of the success stories over the past decade has been access to education. Seven years ago, five per cent of students at Kabul University were female; now that figure is closer to 30 per cent. There have also been impressive political achievements: a quota for women in the Afghan parliament reserves a quarter of seats for them and now almost 30 per cent of parliamentarians are female. Under the Taliban, human rights groups were not even allowed to exist. In the past 10 years groups such as the Christian Aid-funded AWEC have been able to establish a strong network to protect women’s rights and provide education to the poorest. But for all of these achievements, Afghanistan is still a country with some of the worst social indicators in the world. ninety per cent of Afghan women face some form of domestic violence. Less than 15 per cent of women are literate. They still face many problems, including forced marriage and lack of access to justice and education, and their country has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates. Afghanistan is the most dangerous place to live as a woman and a mother according to a recent poll by Thomson Reuters. It cited a ‘near-total lack of economic rights’ as the main reason for this: most Afghan women are not economically strong enough to protect themselves, as all properties almost always belong to the male members of the family. Christian Aid has worked in Afghanistan for nearly three decades – under four different regimes – to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and inequality. We reach out to grassroots communities to provide long-term solutions to poverty, such as providing silkworms to gul Shah, a widow from Herat in northwest Afghanistan. Herat was once a stop on the Silk Road trade route and has a long history of silk production. Funded through the EC Food Facility Funded programme, Gul was given silkworms by Christian Aid partner the Rehabilitation Association and Agriculture Development for Afghanistan so that she could cultivate silk to sell to a processing centre. She has now set up a business with the profit. ‘Only God knows how widows suffer in this country,’ she says. ‘It is difficult because there is nobody to help us buy food or to collect wood for the fire. I made £190 by cultivating silk from silkworms this year, so I was able to buy cotton for my loom and make cloth. Before, I would get thread from others and weave it for them, but now I can afford to buy thread myself. Before, I was only meeting the basic needs of my family, but now I can buy good rice and vegetables and medicines.’ Christian Aid partners also work to educate women. Ahama Hashemi teaches literacy and rights classes in rural Karokh district with the Christian Aid-funded Women’s Activities and Social Services Association. She says: ‘There has been a lot of change in society; when women began coming to this centre they were too shy to even stand in front of the class and say their name, but now they can. Now they know how to read and write, they know how to raise their children. If you educate the mother you are educating the family.’ This is why Christian Aid works with civil society and parliamentarians such as Shinkai to pave the way for all Afghan women’s futures and ensure their rights are protected when new laws are created. Christian Aid believes it is essential that these 10 years of achievements are not lost. We are asking the international community to ensure that women and civil society organisations participate in an inclusive and comprehensive peace process so that it protects the rights and achieves a just and long-term peace for all Afghans, and to provide continued funding to do this. All stakeholders, not only the Taliban, should be included in the peace talks. Shinkai concludes: ‘We believe that this country will not be built without women’s contribution or active role. There have been many achievements – we must maintain these, and not lose them. It is vital to have more long-term commitment to this country and not turn your back.’   Read more: (p16):  http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/christian-aid-news-autumn-2011.pdf

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