Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Human Interest: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Background: Prior to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan women experienced significant rights. They had a chance to obtain an education and the opportunity to work outside the home. However, after the Soviet forces withdrew from the country, various warlords and anarchy arose leading to the Taliban’s 1996 takeover. The Taliban sought to impose an extreme interpretation of Islam–based upon the rural Pashtun tribal code–on the entire country and committed massive human rights violations, particularly directed against women and girls. After the 2001 fall of the Taliban, women slowly began to regain rights through the building of democratic institutions. The promotion of women’s rights is integrated into the overall U.S. strategy and all the key programs, including education/literacy, health care, security, rule of law, political participation and economic development, described in the State Department’s Regional Stabilization Plan. With Afghanistan seeking to include the Taliban and other insurgent groups in peace negotiations and governance issues and the realization that NATO forces are beginning to decreasing its military role, many are questioning if the gains made for women’s rights during the last decade will be lost.

Human Interest:Below are several articles outlining concerns some have about Taliban’s involvement in Afghanistan governance and the impact it may have on the Rule of Law and what it could mean for women’s rights:

  • As violence against women in Afghanistan spikes to its highest level since the fall of the Taliban government, the US has become an investor in the country’s informal-tribal-justice system. The Global Post provides a ‘Special Report’ that tells the painful stories of women who have been subjected to the tribal courts’ brand of ‘justice’: unfairly imprisoned, traded like property and often abused.
  • Heidi Vogt with the Associated press reports on the report released by the New York-based, Human Rights watch on 28 March 2012. Vogt’s article, Afghan Police, Courts Failing Women says that the HRW report on women jailed for so-called “moral crimes” omes as many women’s rights activists say they’re worried that President Hamid Karzai will abandon promises to protect those rights as he tries to court the Taliban for peace talks. Under the Taliban regime, women were forced to wear body-and-face covering burqas and were not allowed out of the house without a male family member as an escort. There is no entry in the Afghan penal code for the crime of “running away” and yet hundreds of women have been jailed for fleeing their families or husbands. Women interviewed by Human Rights Watch often said they were trying to escape abusive husbands or forced marriages. In some cases, those who had left were assumed to have cheated on their husbands, and therefore were jailed for adultery, which is a criminal offense in Afghanistan. The report said police, prosecutors and judges routinely ignore women’s accusations of abuse, arguing even in the face of physical evidence that women are either lying about the abuse or making it seem more severe than it was.
  • The Observer & Eccentric article, ‘One more hurdle in Afghanistan: Justice’ provides a glimpse of what some Afghanistan province elders are saying about the current Western-backed legal system and how they feel about the Taliban’s ways of governing legal matters.

What do you think about the future of women’s rights in Afghanistan?

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