AFGHANISTAN: International Women's Day 100 Years On: An Urgent Call to Action for Women's Rights in Afghanistan

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
The Huffington Post
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes
Human Rights

"Hope is dying in Afghanistan."

These are the words of my colleague, Sweeta Noori, who directs Women for Women International's Afghanistan programs. These words from a woman who has seen it all: from socialist government, to Mujahidin rebels, to Taliban control. She has seen more than three decades of factions vying for power, of popular hope for peace, of alternating promises to curtail or to create women's rights. Only now is the last of hope evaporating for the women of Afghanistan.

As I celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day this March, Sweeta's words resonate in my mind, and my thoughts turn to my sisters in Afghanistan. It strikes me that if hope is dying in Afghanistan, our celebrations are premature.

This centennial anniversary of International Women's Day, Afghanistan is for me a stark reminder of the distance we have to go in ensuring equality for all: equality economically, equality politically and equality socially. Women and their children are still 70 percent of all civilians killed in war and 80 percent of all refugees. Only 8 percent of all peace talks have included women at any level. International Women's Day is a time to come together and see how far we have come, but to not get caught up in the remembrance; it is also a time to move forward. It is a time to recognize that women are standing up on their own and that we as the international community need to honor that act of courage and support them and protect the space in which to do this.

The women of Afghanistan are not silent; they are ignored. Last September, a record number of women ran for parliament and were sworn into the national army. But female parliamentarians, once sworn into office, report that male colleagues switch off their microphones and revile them when they attempt to govern.

In 2009, the government quietly ushered through a law severely restricting the rights of women of the Shia minority. But hundreds of women of all backgrounds took to the street in protest. Last summer's Peace Jirga, which would determine whether or not to hold peace talks with the Taliban, was initially only open to 20 women, out of more than 1,000 participants. It was only after intense lobbying and international pressure that the Afghan government allowed 350 female participants to attend. The current High Peace Council, tasked with administering those talks, holds only 10 women. But hundreds of women will be participating in a peace march in Kabul in honor of International Women's Day.

Let us stand with them. This International Women's Day, stand with us to raise awareness about the rollback on women's rights that is happening today in Afghanistan. Together, let us shine light on the behind-the-scenes debates that will make or break the future for women's rights and participation in Afghanistan. Women build bridges of peace and development. Join us on bridges around the world this International Women's Day to show your solidarity.

By standing together globally this International Women's Day in support of our Afghan sisters, we stand to ensure that it is politically unacceptable to rollback women's rights; that it is politically unacceptable to exclude women from peace talks; that it is political suicide for government to ignore the rights of the governed.

All around the world, these many weeks have been marked by protest. The world has again come to know the power of the people's voice. Today, thousands of women in New York, Rwanda, London, Lahore, and Kabul will be joining together to build bridges of peace and development. Add your voice to our call for peace and prosperity for all.

Together we will bring their hope back to life.