Since the fall of the Taliban, and with the assistance of the international community, Afghan women have secured incredible gains in education, health, civil society, and government — all in a short period of time. As Afghanistan moves through a new period of transition, we must work together to help sustain and expand on these gains. In this blog series, we learn about Afghan women’s experiences – as told in their own words – and remember that we must stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder with Afghan women in their fight for equality and for the peaceful redevelopment of Afghanistan. Share these stories, and your own, on Twitter using #ShoulderToShoulder; you can also take our pledge today to stand with Afghan women.
by Massouda Jalal
Despite desperate efforts of anti-government elements to thwart the 2014 electoral process, the will of the Afghan people prevailed. We made it. We were able to show to the world that our security forces are robust enough to protect our infant democracy and our people remain worthy of international support.
This is not to say that the recent election had already solved the many issues that make life difficult for our people. Rather, it spawned a fresh surge of optimism and confidence in the future of our fragile democracy. For Afghan women, the election promises a chance to build upon the gains of the past 13 years. It should be noted that since the departure of the international security forces was announced two years ago, there have been a number of attempts to claw back the gains in the women’s front. Taliban-style cruelties against women has resurfaced, incidents of reported violence has increased, the validity of the decree on the elimination of violence against women (EVAW) was questioned by the Parliament, and Karzai signed the National Election Law which removed the 25 percent quota for women in the provincial and district councils. Furthermore, there have been a general apprehension that the on-going return of the Taliban in mainstream society and their increasing influence in national decision making would make matters worse for the female population.
However, with any of the two looming Presidential winners, women have reasons to expect that the downward spiral of their struggle may eventually cease. It is a known fact that both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani made strong commitments to promote women’s empowerment during the campaign period. Abdullah Abdullah was well-supported by Afghan women in his campaign and he declared that he will pursue any agenda that will be collectively endorsed by the women’s sector. Ashraf Ghani, on the other hand, declared that women’s empowerment is part of his platform. Unlike Hamid Karzai, he raises the public profile of his wife (a Lebanese-American Christian) and even allowed her to deliver a speech in this year’s celebration of International Women’s Day. This is an indication that in case he wins, his wife may serve as a backdoor champion of women’s agenda and become a new role model for women in the country.
A new President will bring a fresh set of leaders and officials in government. There is a chance that the Ministry of Women, largely criticized for its lack of mettle and capacity, may get a new Minister who could shake up the entire government to work for women’s advancement. The long-standing commitment of the government to position women in at least 30 percent of decision making posts in government may also receive a much needed push. During his ten years of incumbency, Karzai never managed to have any more than three women in his Cabinet. This time, women could get a shot at campaigning for even 40 to 50 percent of new Cabinet seats for women. The first 100 days of the new administration could also be auspicious to pursue policies that are highly essential to women’s empowerment such as women’s right to property and inheritance, the right to travel, the enactment of the law on EVAW and the prosecution of offenders of women’s rights, which unfortunately include police officers and relatives of public officials. The 25 percent quota for women in provincial and district councils should also be restored and this may be possible under the new administration.
More importantly, the government could re-think its posturing in regard to the peace process with the Taliban. The women’s sector urges the government to negotiate peace from a position of strength by insisting that cessation of armed hostilities be recognized as a pre-condition to the peace process. Sites such as schools and markets should be declared as zones of peace. Women’s rights should be written off as a negotiation piece, and returning Taliban combatants should go through a mandatory de-radicalization process.
It is springtime in Afghanistan’s political landscape and hope springs liberally in the circle of the women’s movement.
Massouda Jalal served as Afghanistan’s Minister of Women’s Affairs from 2004 to 2006 and was also the only woman candidate in the 2006 Afghan presidential election.