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Afghanistan: How women can beat the Taliban

Published Date: 
Thursday, January 15, 2015
The National

By Wazhma Frogh

Wazhma Frogh

It is a completely new era for women in Afghanistan.

The Taliban banned women from social life during their rule in the 1990s. At the time, they could not leave their home or even work.

After 2001, when international forces came to Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban, the government changed.

What we have achieved in the past 12 years is incredibly important. The international community supported this, but the women themselves also helped make this happen.

Women are now most involved in the education sector, particularly at the primary and secondary levels.

We also have a good presence in the health sector, although that’s not true in some areas of the south-east where the Taliban are still very strong.

We are in politics as well. Sixty-nine out of the 249 MPs are women. That’s a big number even in comparison to the United States. Although this is because of the quota in the constitution that reserves 27 per cent of the seats in the lower house for women, it is still quite a good number.

But women still are not in leadership positions and they are not very well represented in the government. Out of 25 ministries there are only three female ministers, including the ministry of women’s affairs, a position that cannot be given to a man.

The number of women in the judiciary – and in the police force – is also quite low.

We now have a constitution that gives equal rights to Afghan women. The laws are starting to change, but we still have challenges.

While large numbers of girls are going to school, they might drop out early because of security or cultural issues, or they might get married.

With all these changes, there has been some public backlash as well. Some segments of society are not prepared for the changes, and we have seen an increased level of violence against women. Attacks against women occur several times a day, every day.

Social change can take a long time for people to grow accustomed to – such as a father allowing his daughter to go to school – or to realise it’s OK for daughters and wives to work.

This mentality will take longer to change.

Thirteen years is not a long time to expect that everything will change.

I think the continuing insurgency and insecurity in the country has created more obstacles for women than for men.

Men are killed in insurgent attacks. Most of the causalities of war and violence are men. Yet women, socially, are presented with more obstacles.

If an attack happened near or at a school, then the girls’ families do not allow them to go to school afterwards. The same is true of an attack near a market – women are often stopped from being allowed to leave home afterwards.

The goals of the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security involve promoting or empowering women at the local level.

Women traditionally play a very important role in addressing local conflicts. The insurgency in Afghanistan will only stop if it is no longer accepted by communities.

There are local grievances at a community level that give reasons for young men to take up arms and become insurgents. If mothers forbid their sons from joining the Taliban or resorting to violence, they can play more of a role in fighting the insurgency. This needs to be encouraged.

However, this is not being encouraged because these women are not part of local governments.

These councils do not recruit or consult women on security issues.The government approach is all very masculine. It’s about police, army and guns. But they need to ensure there is a human security element.

We believe that if women have more of a voice at the government level, they can help resolve conflict. This will help defeat the insurgency.

Wazhma Frogh is the founder of the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security in Afghanistan. RIWPS partnered with WELDD to work against culturally-justified violence against women (CVAW), delivering a capacity-building project for women in Afghanistan to employ religious arguments to challenge the justification of gender-based violence.

This article was originally published by The National.

Peace and Security
Political and Public Participation