Beyond 2014: Sustaining the Commitment to Women and Girls in Afghanistan

by Hodei Sultan

Great strides have been made to promote rights and opportunities for Afghan women and girls. Yet the continuing incidents compromising the security and rights of Afghan women necessitate a strengthened and renewed commitment by Kabul and the international community to ensure that women are, in the words of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “front and center,” in the transition process.

Undoubtedly, the coming year will be a critical test for the international community and the Afghan government in terms of implementing inclusive and sustainable peacebuilding mechanisms in Afghanistan. Much focus has been placed on the size of the residual force which will remain as NATO troops withdraw in 2014, the Afghan presidential election scheduled for April 5, 2014, and peace talks with the Taliban (who continue to increase their use of violence while refusing to negotiate).  While Washington has pledged not to support a peace agreement that could jeopardize the rights of women and minority groups, there are growing fears that the accomplishments of the past 11 years will be undermined once international forces leave.

According to the recently published report on Citizens Access to Justice by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), 2,135 cases of violence against women have been recorded since the issuance of Decree 45 on July 26, 2012, by the Afghan Government. This decree requires Afghan government institutions to take timely measures to address issues relating to the rule of law, anti-corruption, reform of government organizations, good governance, and violence against women. But according to AIHRC’s report, only 18 percent of the 2,135 cases have been addressed by the Afghan justice system. While violence against women is rooted in distorted traditional customs, weak governance and rule of law structures perpetuate the issue.

Similarly, the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law enacted in 2009 criminalized numerous forms of violence in Afghanistan, including child and forced marriage, the selling and buying of women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, forced prostitution, the traditional practice of ba’ad (the giving away of a woman or a girl to settle a dispute), forced self-immolation, rape, and other acts of violence. Despite such laws and other efforts by the government, civil society, and the international community, ending violence against women—in terms of its causes and repercussions— continues to be a major challenge. Over the past few years, for example, there has been a surge in targeted killings of prominent Afghan women by the Taliban and other armed groups.

The international community has been quick to recognize this trend and take active steps in its efforts to advance the protection of women and girls.  Secretary Clinton pledged her unwavering commitment to advancing the role of Afghan women and girls. Early in her tenure, she created the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) under the able leadership of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer. Ambassador Verveer worked aggressively to connect women’s rights champions with policymakers and civil society leaders committed to ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again experience the oppressive policies of the past.

Such efforts will not eliminate violence against women on their own. The Afghan government must also do its part to ensure gains in women’s rights are protected, existing laws are enforced and new opportunities are created for Afghan women and girls to be empowered and prosper. Within Afghanistan, efforts to eliminate violence against women require the removal of barriers that limit and prevent the administration of justice for gender-based violence. Furthermore, raising awareness on the EVAW law and other legal instruments remains critical in the battle to end gender-based violence in the coming years. More importantly, no political compromise that undermines gender rights should be tolerated as part of a politically negotiated settlement.

About the Author

Hodei Sultan is a Program Officer focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the United States Institute of Peace. She holds an M.S. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, where she specialized in conflict resolution with a particular emphasis on grassroots gender initiatives in conflict and post-conflict countries.

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