As coalition partners, including the U.S. military, draw down from Afghanistan, handing over full responsibility to the Afghan forces by the end of next year, an important question lingers: will Afghanistan’s government protect the progress made to advance the human rights of Afghan women, or will there be a reversal in that progress?
Afghan women and girls have come a long way since Allied forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. Today, nearly 40 percent of the country’s 8 million students are girls. The maternal mortality rate, which was the highest in the world, has declined from 1,600 deaths to 327 per 100,000 births, and women’s life expectancy has increased by 20 years. Women from all walks of life are opening businesses, running for elected office, and living healthier lives, improving their own lives and the lives of those around them.
Women’s human rights are essential to reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan.
“When Afghan women live longer and go to school in greater numbers, all Afghan families and their communities will grow stronger,” said Secretary of State John Kerry:
“If I had to walk blind into a district in Afghanistan and I could only ask one question to determine how secure it was and how much progress it was making, I would ask, “What proportion of the girls here are able to go to school?”
There will be no peace or stability in Afghanistan if half of its population is marginalized. But securing the rights of Afghan women and girls is a generational challenge, and it will take the effort of both the women and the men of Afghanistan to finish the job.
“It will take the courage of every man who defends his daughter’s right to an equal education; it will take the courage of every brother who challenges a law that keeps his sister from owning property or opening a business; and every husband who not only promises that the cycle of domestic violence can stop with him, but who actually proves it.”
Women’s human rights are essential to reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan and any potential for peace will be subverted if women’s voices are silenced or marginalized. The United States will continue to support Afghan women at all levels in rebuilding their nation.