International efforts to assist women have produced mixed results: while Afghan women have won the right to participate in public life and have gained improved access to health care, education, and local economic development, escalating violence has jeopardized these gains in many provinces. Women exercising leadership abilities or pursuing opportunities provided by Western donors are accused of being anti-Islamic and have been subjected to threats, attack, and assassination. Differing views on women's roles have been a battleground over which competing visions for Afghan society, Islam, and claims to power have been fought. Women—so often objectified in times of war—have been at the frontlines of the Afghan conflict.
In highlighting the concerns and status of Afghan women, this report aims to provide options for Western policymakers to protect women's gains while pursuing political solutions to the conflict. The report argues that it will be impossible for girls and women to consolidate their gains in a militarized environment. U.S.-led forces have been unable to provide security or protect Afghan civilians in many areas. When the scale of the military intervention increased, the insurgency became stronger and the influence of the Taliban and armed groups spread. The presence of foreign troops has been identified as a major factor driving the insurgency, along with widespread resentment of a corrupt central government and the abuses of predatory strongmen. The resulting climate of insecurity and impunity has produced new forms of powerlessness for many Afghan women and girls, who have been widowed, displaced, trafficked, and forced into marriage as a direct or indirect result of the conflict.