Why we need to stand in solidarity with Afghan women

Kate Hughes, campaigner for the Rights in Crisis Team at Oxfam write for us.

Ten years ago, Afghan women were promised a bright future. After decades of civil war, and repressive Taliban rule, they have entered a new era in which they are once again able to work, send their daughters to school, and even stand for parliament. But now these hard-won gains are under threat, and women fear that they will be abandoned as international military forces prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. A new international campaign has recently launched, “Green scarves for solidarity with Afghan women”, that aims to support Afghan women’s groups and keep their fight for better rights at the forefront of the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan.

When international forces first went into Afghanistan, women’s rights were much discussed.  Wives of Western leaders came out publically in support of Afghan women; notably Cherie Blair and Laura Bush, spoke about the importance of supporting Afghan women.  Cherie Blair said this support was vital “so they can create the better Afghanistan we all want to see.”

Yet, as the conflict has continued and Western nations have become wearier of war, focus has shifted away from women’s rights, and more towards how and when to bring troops home.  Advocates of women’s issues have increasingly struggled to get the funding from donors that they deserve.  For example, even though Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with 1 out of 11 women dying in pregnancy or child birth, The Independent reported in August that the coalition government is failing to support Afghan women.  “Not a single penny of the British government’s £178m annual Afghanistan reconstruction budget is being spent trying to save the tens of thousands of women who die in childbirth there”.

Despite the increasing challenges for Afghan women, a brave and bold women’s movement is pushing for change.  The Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) is a decidedly mobile and active campaigning group that serves as a well-established network for the growing number of women’s organisations operating in the country
“ One of the major concerns is the absence of Afghan women in discussions and decisions on peace, “ says Samira Hamidi, AWN’s director. “No negotiation or decision can be complete if half the population’s views are ignored.”
AWN campaigns vigorously in the political sphere. They specialise in global advocacy in conversations that will shape the country’s future, as well as in country campaigning.  For the 2009 presidential elections, AWN launched the 5 Million Women Campaign.  The campaign mobilised women to influence the political agenda of different candidates.  The campaign did not try to appeal or align itself with any one candidate.  It instead aimed to unite women as a strong voting block and present women’s issues as a vote winner to candidates.
To give the campaign a strong visual identity, women wore green scarves edged in red and black stripes (the other colours in the flag of Afghanistan), into which they sewed messages such as, “Our vote is our future”.  Men joining the campaign wore green caps, edged with red and black.
Another group trailblazing women’s activism in Afghanistan is Young Women for Change (YWFC).  Founded in April 2011, Young Women for Change is made up of young activists who have grown up in the more liberal Afghanistan of the last 10 years.

YWFC organised Afghanistan’s first ever march against street harassment July this year, something that would have been unimaginable, and quite frankly impossible, 10 years ago.

Though their messages and issues may echo feminist issues globally (violence against women and issues of political participation) – their campaigning environment is exponentially tougher.  One must remember that women in Afghanistan still face acid attacks, violence in the home or even being killed for working outside the home.  This summer, two women in Kandahar were murdered on their way home from their offices precisely for this reason.

Activists globally supporting women in Afghanistan

Activists globally have an important role to play in supporting the struggle of Afghan women.  For those of us in the UK, our government contributes troops to the intervention in Afghanistan and is also contributing millions of pounds each year in aid.  The UK has both a role and a stake in Afghanistan and we have a role to play in lobbying and monitoring the coalition government so that women’s rights remains high up on the agenda.

On December 5th the international community will meet at Bonn in Germany for a conference that will chart the course for the international community’s involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014.  It is a vital opportunity for world leaders to reaffirm their commitment to Afghanistan’s women and girls, and ensure that their access to basic services – so vital to Afghanistan’s future – is supported for the next decade.

How can you help?
We need to demand that the government does not to sell out Afghan women for the sake of peace at any price.  We need to stand in solidarity with the struggle of Afghan women.

To show support of the green scarf that has come to symbolise Afghanistan’s women’s movement –Oxfam, and others, have launched the “Green scarves for solidarity with Afghan women” campaign.   We are calling on people to wear green scarves in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan and to upload images to a photo petition. These images will be handed over to ministers and used to build a photo wall at the Bonn conference, demonstrating the movement of global solidarity with Afghan women.

Aqlima Moradi from YWFC is featured in the campaign video, where she sums up the importance of global solidarity by saying “the fight for human rights is something that is everyone’s responsibility”.  It is our responsibility to act.
Add your face to the photo petition:  http://ch16.org/afghanwomen

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