With decades of struggle and devotion, today it seems interesting to note that how certain social and political movements of women take on colorful dimensions in a country where women are restrictedly banned to education or any other social or political movements. Today we have our women in our government departments who take active rule in all affairs of the country, particularly in promoting the rights of women. 8th of March is a women day that has never been celebrated in Afghanistan, but today it is openly celebrated and regarded a red letter day in the history of career women who struggled hard to gain better working conditions and fair wages throughout the world. Now, it has begun reflecting our mindset parties who wholly went against women rights in Afghanistan. Women were deprived of participating outside of homes for social and political change and were always condemned.
Perhaps, it is a very good day for our women and it marks a milestone in the path of persevering women who financially support their families now through hard labor in various departments and come as a force to say that they are also entitled with equal rights and opportunities in our society. United, powerful and persistent struggle won them decent working atmosphere and better salary. The anniversary of this momentous achievement began to be celebrated since late 2006 until now, initially soon after the fall of the Taliban regime when they adjusted in government departments.
Worth mentioning, 8th of March is not to only celebrate the achievements that women have gained in the last 12 years, but also to repeat our efforts and commitment to make sure that their efforts are sustainable and that their gains are secure. In fact, we must double our efforts for the years ahead so as to ensure our efforts continue in protecting the rights of Afghan women and request the international community not to leave the Afghan women alone who are asking for the solidarity and human rights protection.
However, there are still thousands of questions regarding women rights. The U.N. reports that the Afghan women still face frequent abuse despite an increase in the prosecution of abusers. Violence against women also remains largely unreported because of cultural taboos, social norms and religious beliefs in the conservative Muslim society. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights commission also recorded more than 4,000 cases of violence against women from March 21 to Oct. 21 last year, but most were not reported to police due to cultural barriers.
Women are still the most vulnerable and excluded class in Afghanistan and their rights are still very fragile. In the re-election of President Obama, there have been big talks about the war in Afghanistan with particular focus on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. While these topics are undoubtedly important, Americans often forget to consider the plight of Afghan women remaining in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is still called to be one of the poorest countries in the world, with extremely high maternal mortality, infant mortality and under-5 mortality rates. Beyond the dismal health indicators, women and girls suffer tremendously from domestic, cultural and traditional violence. Behind the Burqas are tales of domestic violence, sexual violence and targeted killings. Women are largely threatened to death for they participate in social and political movements.
The United Nation’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) has recently released its 2012 annual report, entitled “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”. In this report, UNAMA has noted that 865 Afghan women and girls were killed or injured due to conflict-related violence in 2012, a 20 percent increase from 2011while 116 children were recruited and used in armed conflict and 3 children died carrying out suicide attacks for anti-government forces. The numbers of women and girls killed and injured from incidents of targeted killings more than tripled in 2012, to a total of 51 casualties. They are still absent from micro and national decision-making processes from home to village and from village to national and international levels.
The report is really shocking for us, yet he has completely forgotten to mention the number of women, girls, men and boys subjected to sexual violence annually. But the reports does say that the violence against women has much increased recently, particularly in the remote villages where women have no access to human rights protection departments or have less knowledge about how to refer their problems to women rights related departments.
There are many stories about girls getting their throats slit when they refuse a forced marriage, or girls choosing to set themselves on fire rather than marry a 60-year-old man. Forced marriages and forced intercourse are considered the types of sexual violence. According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, there were more than 3,000 instances of violence against women between March and September 2012. Violence against women is truly considered an undeniable and widespread reality. Sexual violence experienced by women and girls in the country includes forced sexual intercourse, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, demands for illegitimate sexual acts, sexual insults, humiliations and forced watching of pornographic films. They are harassed both mentally and physically. In response to this gender crisis, President Karzai had made to make it clear that the peace process will work in the interests of Afghan women, not against them and that women are also involved in this process.
While the U.S. and other Western countries consider the withdrawal of troops and cessation of military action in Afghanistan, they cannot forget the women, girls, men and boys who they have sought to protect for the past 12 years. The Afghan government must also include women in the peace process so as to make sure that, their rights are protected and that the peace process does not exclude the interest of Afghan women.
Above all, the U.S troops’ departure from Afghanistan is so very certain that we must not overlook the importance of fighting for women’s equality and the role women play in that fight. We believe that this country will not be built without women’s contribution or active role. There have been many achievements. It is vital that the international community has more long-term commitment to this country and not turn their back, otherwise country will likely turn into a battleground.
The article was published in Daily Outlook Afghanistan Group of Newspapers on March 10, 2013.