The past decade has opened the minds of Afghan women about the importance of democracy, liberty, education, and being active participants in the processes of national politics and decision making. We have come to embrace all of these as vital to national progress as well as to our lives as human beings.
Having been in hell during the Taliban times, the past 10 years was like running a marathon towards a peaceful and prosperous future where we could enjoy a full and satisfying life as equal human beings. Recent decisions that have marginalized the voices of Afghan women, however, have stymied this journey forward. Afghan women are beginning to feel the backlash of the government’s peace and reintegration program with the Taliban and the imminent drawdown of international security support against anti-government elements.
Taliban-style violence against women is back. Official statistics show at least 28 percent increase in reported incidents of violence against women in various parts of the country, involving public trials and executions, beheadings, hanging, rape, torture, and murder of Afghan women – a clear resurgence of the violence that we used to suffer during the Taliban regime.
The most recent of these is the beheading of Mah Gul, a 20-year old woman from Herat, by her mother in law and cousin for refusing to work as a prostitute. Honor killing, an act of murdering female members of the family who are accused of bringing shame to the family, has been nearly eliminated in the past decade. But in the past six months, around 60 of such cases have been reported. Majority of our women remain uneducated, without economic means, vulnerable to early deaths, and with little political power.
If the United States and our international allies would leave us, they should first ensure that women’s voice in national decision making is strong enough to make a difference.
Help us put more women in positions of power and decision making, secure our schools, hold our government accountable for the protection of our life and rights, institute effective and lawful justice mechanisms at the local levels, and empower communities and civil society organizations to serve as champions of democracy, peace and women’s rights. Without these, the lives of Afghan women after the pull out of international support will certainly regress to the pre-2001 situation. The achievements of the past decade have not been adequate. Yet, they are foundational to a bright future for our women and the next generation. Let us not allow our collective investments to go down the drain.
Massouda Jalal is founding chair of Jalal Foundation, former Minister of Women, and the first female Afghan candidate for president.