A Place at the Table: Safeguarding Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Ten years after the start of the western intervention in Afghanistan, Afghan women are facing an uncertain future. Women have strived for and made important gains since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, including in political participation and access to education, but these gains are fragile and reversible.

As security deteriorates across the country, violence against women is also on the rise. Both the Afghan and US governments are attempting to engage in parallel talks with the Taliban to reach a political solution to the conflict before the international military forces withdraw by the end of 2014.

The assassination of the government’s top peace broker, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September 2011 underscores how difficult peace and reconciliation will be to achieve in Afghanistan. There are no shortcuts to peace in Afghanistan. The only way forward is a transparent and inclusive peace process which involves representatives from all parts of Afghan society, including women. The more that women feel involved in and committed to a political settlement which safeguards their rights, the more likely they are, within their families and communities, to promote changes in attitude and genuine reconciliation – essential for a lasting peace.

Western leaders have a responsibility toward Afghan women, not least because protection of women’s rights was sold as a positive outcome of the international intervention in October 2001. In this report – ‘A Place at the Table: Safeguarding women’s rights in Afghanistan’, co-authored with well-known Afghan academic Orzala Ashraf Nemat, Oxfam warns that women’s hard won gains are fragile and could slip away. It stresses that women could face a dangerous future after 2014, if the US, UK and the Afghan government sideline them in the search for peace. At the 10th anniversary of the intervention, Oxfam calls on world leaders not to sacrifice the hard-won gains that Afghan women have made.

Key recommendations

  • The Afghan government and the international community must ensure women’s rights are not sacrificed and make a genuine commitment to meaningful participation of women in all phases and levels of any peace processes.
  • The Afghan government must enhance efforts to increase representation of women in elected bodies and government institutions at all levels to 30 per cent; encourage religious leaders to speak out on women’s rights in Islam; and intensify efforts to promote female access to education, health, justice, and other basic services.
  • The Afghan government must improve awareness of women’s rights and human rights law in the justice and security sector, and ensure effective implementation of these laws; and increase substantially women recruits in the security and justice sectors.
  • The international community must support expanded civic education programs to raise awareness of women’s rights at community level and support efforts to improve female leadership
  • The international community must intensify support to promote access to education and other key services, and ensure this support will continue at current or increased levels even as international military forces prepare to withdraw.
  • The UN must continue to monitor all government actions including the peace processes and provide increased support to the Afghan government on all negotiation, reconciliation, and reintegration processes.