Afghanistan: 'Afghan Women Excluded'

Meredith Tax

On December 5, less than two weeks from now, the second conference on Afghanistan will convene in Bonn, ten years after the first one installed the Karzai government. It will include all the usual suspects—Afghan governmental bodies, foreign governments, and representatives of Afghan civil society—with one big exception. Despite some pressure—who can say how much?—from the State Department, and the clear and cogent demands put forth by the Afghan Women’s Network, no Afghan women’s groups or representatives have been invited. As Human Rights Watch points out, 

“The Afghan government’s key donors and facilitators of the conference, including Germany and the United States, do not appear to have made women’s rights a priority for the meeting.” This is despite Hillary’s promise not to abandon Afghan women, and the fact that support from the German Greens—who are members of the government—helped build the Afghan Women’s Network.

When you consider that the Taliban’s treatment of women was a pretext for this war, these facts are staggering, if not surprising. The recent broadcast of “Peace Unveiled” on PBS’s Women, War & Peace series shows the kind of opposition Afghan women activists are up against and how unreliable US support for them appears. It’s an important program and series, very much worth watching, and all the episodes can be viewed online. 

Despite all the talk about UN resolution 1325, people in the US, even most feminists, have not focused on this problem. I wrote a blog last July saying how important it was to support the demands of the Afghan Women’s Network. To my surprise, I was asked if I wanted the war to go on forever—as if the only two choices were between endless war or betraying Afghan women.

To accept this is to accept the idea that the only meaningful form of US action is military. President Karzai (who changes his tune frequently) has been all over the papers saying how much he wants a continued alliance with the US, meaning we should keep giving him lots of money. Are we to put no conditions on this aid, let human rights go out the window, and, in the name of respecting cultural differences, keep financing a corrupt regime with an attitude towards women and gays barely different from the Taliban’s?

Could the Obama administration perhaps show a little principle here? A little backbone?

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon posted an article today in Foreign Policy called “Afghan women are not ‘pet rocks’” (referring to a dismissive remark by a State Department official). I am cross-posting it below and hope you will forward this and link to it widely because there has been so little media attention to this. Let’s try to generate some pressure here.