Oxfam warns women face rising danger if excluded from Afghanistan peace talks
Lys Anzia – WNN Features
(WNN) KABUL: On the tenth anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a new October 3, 2011 Oxfam report on progress for Afghan women shows steady advances for Afghan women since October 2001. But recent data shows women’s personal safety, opportunity and human rights inside the nation are beginning to erode back to conditions that existed previously.
With May 2011 being the deadliest month for Afghan civilian casualties since 2007, opinions inside and outside the country on the war in Afghanistan have been mixed. Many women in the region worry they will be left behind as international peace talks accelerate toward the proposed U.S. military campaign ‘end’ date in 2014.
Oxfam warns that women’s “hard-won gains remain fragile.” Numerous gains have begun to see reversals says Oxfam’s recent October report, “A Place at the Table – Safeguarding women’s rights in Afghanistan.”
“Women want peace but not at the cost of losing our freedom again,” says Noorjahan Akbar, co-founder of Young Women for Change.
The changes for women in the past decade are evident but still show disparity between those women who have more opportunity and those who have little to no ability to jump through the wall of poverty. Those who may be granted a chance to speak at the table with peace talks are the same ones who have gained more education that enables them to push forward with gains for women.
In rural regions though, many women and girls continue to fall through the cracks without a voice. Numerous girls in rural regions marry too early to gain access to any secondary educational opportunities as they suffer under discrimination and exclusion.
Current data still shows that “Over 80% of Afghan women are illiterate and only 6% aged older than 25 have had an education,” outlines Oxfam although there is a high percentage of 92 women out of 351 members in the parliament. The picture for many women, those in rural areas or those in urban areas who have been unable to receive educational opportunities, are still bleak regardless of gains.
Before 1996, when Taliban officials officially took over many of Afghanistan’s local government and policy decisions, women made up 70 percent of all teachers, 50 percent of all civil servants and 40 percent of all medical doctors in the country. But conditions for women began to deteriorate following 1994 as Taliban policy became more pervasive and insistent that women follow Taliban doctrines that limit women to live surrounding home and family only.
“In most places, particularly in the villages, the condition of women is still like a hell,” says world-renown Kandahar based activist Malalai Joya, named one of TIME magazine’s 100 “most influential people in the world” in 2010. In spite of gains, Joya who is a former member of the Afghanistan parliament kicked out of the Assembly because of her outspoken views, sees the problem in what she calls a “military occupation” that comes with a hefty price. “…even with the presence of tens of thousands of troops, not only women—also Afghan men—suffer from war, terrorism, injustice, the rule of drug mafia and warlordism, insecurity, joblessness, poverty, unprecedented corruption, and many other problems,” said Joya in an April 2011 interview by Harvard International Review.
Today crime and violence in Afghanistan is at an all time high. “2010 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2001,” says Oxfam in a May 2011 briefing paper put together with CIVIC – Campaign for Innocent Victims in Combat and the HRRAC – Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium. In a growing atmosphere of increased violence, women are particularly vulnerable to instability in the Afghan government where “harm is caused in violation of human rights,” states the report. “And despite billions of dollars poured into security sector reform over the past decade, accountability for violations is seriously lacking, as are mechanisms for appropriately responding to harm caused during lawful operations.”
But conditions of war have not slowed the desire for women in the country to achieve. It may just be the opposite. “Even with conditions that seem to be deteriorating women and girls are trying to take their place in a larger Afghan society,” says co-author of the recent Oxfam report on Afghan women’s rights Orzala Ashraf Nemat.
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