Last week, the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) held a briefing at the Capitol on the status of women and girls in Afghanistan in 2017 in cooperation with Congresswomen Niki Tsongas and Congresswoman Susan Davis.

Joining FMF were three Afghan human and women’s rights activists who gave short presentations detailing their recommendations for future U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the challenges that still remain in the country for women and girls, and the substantial progress that has been made over the last two decades. Featured presenters included Dr. Sima Samar, former Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs and current Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; Gaisu Yari, former advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs and a masters’ student in International Relations at Colombia University; and Belquis Ahmadi, Senior Program Officer at the United States Institute of Peace.

Simar, Yari, and Ahmadi outlined many of the positive changes that have occurred in Afghanistan over the past 21 years since the launch of the FMF’s Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls. For example, the country now has an IT school that teaches women how to code and create apps and websites. Portrayals of Afghanistan in the American media most often show war, women in burqas, and extreme violence. In reality, however, women and girls now have much more opportunity to attend schools, universities, and access health facilities. There are also a growing numbers of women participating in free media, music programs, advocacy, athletics, the military, and the electorate.

Suggestions for future Afghanistan policy included supporting Afghan women who join security forces, establishing national election fairness and human rights commissions, and increasing women’s access to education, health services, and contraception to provide Afghan women with increased control over their lives. All three presenters noted that improving human rights and achieving peace in Afghanistan are paramount to ensuring women’s security in the region. Notably, however, discussion also covered the significant challenges to improving the status of women and girls in the former Taliban-controlled country. Although the number of women entrepreneurs is growing rapidly, many do not know how to enter the international market.

In addition to Tsongas and Davis, Congresswomen Lois Frankel and Sheila-Jackson Lee were also in attendance, as well as staff members from the offices of Carol Shea-Porter, Carolyn Maloney, and Nancy Pelosi, among others. Those in attendance expressed their support of FMF’s goals in the region and were committed to doing everything they could to help, but expressed concern with deploying additional U.S. military personnel to Afghanistan.

Congresswoman Tsongas stated in a press release that “The advances achieved by women and girls in Afghanistan are not only crucial for international security and regional stability, but they represent a path toward equality and stability for all Afghan people. Many challenges remain but maintaining and expanding these gains must be a priority for the people of Afghanistan and for the international community, especially the United States.”

“The women of Afghanistan are the canaries in the coal mine-what happens to them shows us what will happen to the rest of their country,” stated FMF president Ellie Smeal. “That is why it is so important that we listen to their concerns and build off of the great advancements they have achieved in recent years. Of course, one of the reasons that Afghan women and girls have been able to reach such progress is thanks to the leadership and dedication of women in the U.S. Congress, like Congresswoman Tsongas and Congresswoman Davis.”

The FMF launched its Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls in 1996. Since then, we have worked tirelessly to increase the safety of and decrease violence against women and girls in Afghanistan by supporting women’s rights, contraception, education, political leadership, and peacekeeping.

Media Resources: Tsongas.house.gov 6/16/17

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