Where are the women in Afghanistan nation-building?

1Samira Meet Samira Hamidi (@HuriaSamira), an inspirational afghan activist for women’s rights. She is the director of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), an organisation of more than 103 NGOs and she is asking: where are the women in the nation-building process of Afghanistan?

Since the US-led intervention in 2001 that removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, women of Afghanistan have seen some significant improvements in their human rights¹. During the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (1996-2001), the Taliban enforced a strict islamic sharia law that restricted women’s education, forced women to wear burqas, encouraged forced marriages and forced women to have male chaperones².

Following the end of the civil war, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was assigned the mandate to “coordinate international civilian efforts” of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme³. The UNAMA has the difficult job of solving the societal and political aftermath of the war and the duty to support the new government that will be put in place⁴, when there has not been an internationally recognised stable state since the fall of the monarchy in 1973⁵.

Women’s rights have discussed from the beginning of the nation-building process but the belief is that the country should be stabilized before address those concerns⁴. It is “too risky” to pursue human rights in a time of great instability⁴. However, women in institutions are less likely to be corrupt and more likely to break from the cycle of poverty because if they are given financial control they are more likely to reinvest to benefit of their family and country⁴. If women’s rights are secondary, the peacebuilding process is missing a vital part of the community that will create a stable, positive peace (peace that integrates positively into human society⁶).

Afghan activists, like Samira, who fight for women’s rights are targets of assassinations, physical violence and their attackers are not brought to justice¹. 2 SafiaSafia Amajan (pictured left) was a teacher and the head of the department of Women’s Affairs in Kandahar, known for leading the Pashtun female emancipation, was gunned down outside her house in 2008 by the Taliban⁷. Without justice for the death of these inspirational women, a “culture of impunity”¹ is condoned and makes women activists’ lives even more dangerous.

Samira has also been a victim of attacks and during a speech in the Speaker’s House for Amnesty International UK she recalled an incident where she was in such danger that her family asked her to give up⁸. The danger she goes through will not change without an improvement in the Justice System and the police force⁴ which are recommendations from both the UNAMA³ and Amnesty¹.

During her speech, she also emphasised the importance of the continued support of the international community and expressed her worry and concern that there will be negotiations with the Taliban that could hinder the progress already made⁸. The plea of Amnesty International is that the UK government will not completely neglect the people of Afghanistan once the troops withdraw and they ask for the government to maintain the pressure on the Afghan government to ensure the progress continues¹.

Samira is hopeful for the future⁹. She is optimistic about the increase in girls attendance at school, the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and consequentially the increase in the persecution of those who commit “honor killings”⁹. She recognises that there is a long way to go but the progress already made within the new Afghan state gives her hope for the future and the will to fight on.

So, where are all the women? Some women are still being forced into marriage, refused justice for violence against them or killed for the sake of their family’s honor. Others are going to school, joining activists groups and are putting their life on the line for rights that they should have because of being born (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1). Having met Samira, there is a reason to be optimistic because as long as there are some women, there can be hope for the others in Afghanistan.


About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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