Kabul/Brussels, 14 October 2013: Women are increasingly exposed to violence and exclusion from the public sphere as Afghanistan nears the 2014 security transition and conservative forces gain momentum.
In its latest report, Women and Conflict in Afghanistan, the International Crisis Group examines the status of women in present-day Afghanistan. While now equal before the law, they still face widespread discrimination, sidelined in the police and government and menaced where they pursue positions of responsibility. As next year's international withdrawal nears, attacks on women in positions of authority, including legislators, have multiplied, as have attempts to reverse rights gained over the past twelve years. The security transition and presidential elections in 2014 can and should be turned into an opportunity to empower women and consolidate their rights.
The report's major findings and recommendations are:
Women played a major role in the reconstruction of the post-Taliban state and are now present in every sphere of public life. Still, most do not enjoy the protections and rights the law guarantees. Security forces are not yet committed to and capable of protecting them. Only a fraction of incidents of gender-based violence make it to the courts; most cases are decided by male-dominated local councils.
The Afghan government should ensure that the laws protecting women are implemented and remove hurdles for female candidates and voters in the April 2014 presidential election.
Women are being marginalised in the peace talks with the Taliban. The Afghan government – and the U.S. and other NATO nations in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – should make constitutionally-guaranteed gender equality and the protection and empowerment of women a prerequisite for any negotiation, not merely a desired outcome.
Along with sustained donor assistance for women's access to basic services and economic opportunities, the international community should strongly signal that it will not accept the erosion of women's rights, including in any negotiated settlement with the insurgents. The mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan should be renewed beyond March 2014.
“Never in Afghanistan's history have so many women been active in the public sphere, but the struggle is far from over”, says Sophie Desoulieres, Crisis Group's South Asia Analyst. “The government and parliament may be tempted to backtrack on pro-women constitutional provisions and laws to assuage conservative powerbrokers within and outside the armed insurgency”.
“Women's empowerment cannot be fully achieved without peace”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group's South Asia Project Director and Senior Adviser. “But a sell-out on their rights, whether during the negotiations with the Taliban or internal politicking, would undermine prospects for a stable, inclusive, democratic transition”.