Women’s rights in Afghanistan risk being forgotten as international troops withdraw and the government struggles for a peace deal 10 years after the Taliban were ousted, Oxfam said Monday.
In a new report the NGO said women’s rights had improved in Afghanistan since the October 2001 US-led invasion, particularly access to education, with 2.7 million girls now in school compared to a tiny number under the Taliban.
But it also warned of an “uncertain future” and a “downward slide,” citing increasing violence against women and fears that any future peace deal with the Taliban could “sacrifice” the gains.
“Women in Afghanistan have achieved real progress in areas such as political participation, the rule of law, and education since 2001 but these hard-won gains remain fragile,” Oxfam’s report said.
“With the imminent withdrawal of international forces, there is a risk that the government may sacrifice women’s rights in order to secure a political deal with the Taliban and other armed opposition groups.”
All 140,000 foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, handing control of security to Afghan forces.
President Hamid Karzai is currently reviewing his strategy of trying to talk peace with the Taliban after the assassination of his peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani, which experts say has dealt a heavy blow to hopes of reconciliation.
The US and other countries made restoring women’s rights a key priority in Afghanistan after the October 7, 2001 invasion which ousted the Taliban in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the US.
Under the militant Islamist regime, women were banned from working outside the home, forced to wear burqas and had to be escorted by a male relative whenever they left their houses.
Major gains have been made in the last decade, Oxfam said.
Some 42 percent of primary school age girls are enrolled in school and Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest rates of parliamentary female representation at 28 percent, albeit thanks to a quota system.
However, Oxfam warned such improvements were under threat as “women are increasingly caught between a spreading insurgency, a government that is willing to sacrifice women’s rights and an international community focused on rapidly reducing its military presence in Afghanistan”.
It also pointed to a sharp divide between experiences and attitudes in urban and rural areas in what is one of the world’s poorest countries.
The report highlighted disturbing levels of violence against women and said that a key law criminalising practices such as honour killings and child marriage was only being implemented in 10 out of 34 Afghan provinces.
Some 87 percent of Afghan women say they have suffered “physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage,” Oxfam said, while self-immolation still happens.
The Taliban also continue to attack girls’ schools and limit the movements of women in areas which they control, the report added.
It accused Karzai’s fragile government of a “willingness to sacrifice women’s rights for political ends” in order to gain the support of hardliners and bolster its own position.
Oxfam urged officials to ensure that any future peace deal with the Taliban involves women and guarantees women’s rights.
“Women are working as doctors, lawyers and businesswomen and girls are at school,” said report co-author Orzala Ashraf Nemat.
“But what is life going to be like for us in the next 10 years? Already life is getting tougher for Afghan women. Afghan women want peace — not a stitch-up deal that will confine us to our homes again.”