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“Women in Afghanistan are critical to progress and stability in their war-torn country.” So said U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s issues Melanne Verveer [meh-LAHN ver-VEER]. “We know,” said Ms. Verveer, “that no country can prosper if half its people are left behind.” And as President Barack Obama said in his Cairo speech, “we recognize that our daughters can contribute as much to society as our sons.”
The truth is, said Ambassador Verveer, “that countries that repress women also tend to be backward economically, and are more likely to be failed states.” That’s why United States is intensifying its efforts to help Afghan women participate more fully in society. One example of this is a new twenty-seven million dollar U.S. funded program of small, flexible, rapid response grants targeted to empower Afghan women-led non-governmental organizations at the local level. Programs range from economic development, literacy training, skills training, and healthcare.
Political participation is critical to empowering Afghan women. Currently, Afghanistan is in the midst of an election campaign for both president and provincial councils. There are two women running for president and more than one-hundred running for council seats. The U.S. has called for a campaign that is credible, inclusive, and secure, where men and women candidates can participate with no restrictions on their freedom of movement and be assured of protection.
An ongoing concern for Afghan women is security. Violence against women and girls, said Ambassador Verveer, is endemic and much remains to be done, including access to institutions of justice, civic education, and prosecution of crimes. More girls are in school, but the Taliban have eroded some of the progress. Last year alone, they burned or shut down more than seven-hundred schools, and thousands of girls are now without access to formal education.
As Ambassador Verveer made clear, “Progress in Afghanistan must be measured not just in military terms, but also in terms of social, political, and economic participation of women in rebuilding Afghanistan and in the safeguarding of their human rights.”