Published on Huffington Post (UK) on 10th Oct 2011
It’s great to see that Dame Helen Mirren, Shazia Mirza, and Alesha Dixon are being the voice for women outside of Afghanistan so they can have one inside it. Celebrities are going green for the Green Scarf Campaign calling on world leaders not to sacrifice their rights in any political deal. I am sure Afghan women’s rights activists, who wear green scarves as a show of strength and unity, will welcome this much needed support. They are worried the clock could be turned back on their rights now the US government is in direct talks with the Taliban. I know Hilary Clinton has made public statements defending Afghan women, but who knows what is going on behind the scenes. This issue of Afghan women always touches an emotional chord globally – no wonder Pakistani pop star Hadiqa Kiani and the chat show host dubbed Oprah of the Middle East, Nashwa Al Ruwaini, have also joined the campaign.
Since the fall of the Taliban, women have once again returned to work as doctors, lawyers, judges and police officers although participation levels are nowhere near the pre-Taliban era when women in Kabul made up 70% of teachers, 50% of civil servants and 40% of doctors. Women are participating in sports too – something unthinkable 10 years ago. There are now female boxers preparing for the 2012 Olympics and even a women’s national football team – although they have to train behind guarded doors for fear of retribution.
Despite these gains, Afghanistan is still one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman because the Taliban continue to get away with attacking them. In 2008, the Taliban assassinated police commander, Malalai Kakar and last year MP Fawzia Kofi survived an attack by gunmen. I some times wonder what the Taliban hate more – women’s empowerment or Western occupation. A recently launched Oxfam report reminds us what life is really like for most Afghan women. More than 87% have experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage. Renouncing violence and severing links with Al Qaeda is a pre condition set by the international community for negotiations with the Taliban -so why has ending violence against women not been included?
The Afghan government doesn’t appear to be committed to women’s rights either. Any legislation passed offering equality to women is not backed up by any enforcement. So those who intimidate, threaten and attack women are rarely punished. President Karzai publicly vowed that the men, who threw acid in the faces of 15 female students in Kandahar city in November 2008, would be severely punished. He has made no attempt to bring them to justice.
Karzai also panders to conservative religious clerics in exchange for their political support. Prior to the 2009 presidential elections, he passed the Shia Personal Status Law, allowing fathers and even grandfathers to have full custody of children in a divorce and women having to seek permission to work. Karzai was ready to pass the law in its original form, which was even more controversial as it legalized marital rape and only amended it after an international outcry. Pressure can work so let’s be the voice for Afghan women. Foreign Ministers from around the world will attend the Bonn Peace Conference on 5th December to discuss the support package for Afghanistan after Western forces withdraw in 2014. Let’s tell them not to negotiate away women’s rights by joining the campaign at www.ch16.org – I just have!