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U.S. Commitment to Afghan Women

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United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, Melanne Verveer, was interviewed by at the United State Department of State regarding her recent trip to Afghanistan. Ambassador Verveer said that had been asked by the Secretary of State and Ambassador Holbrooke to go to Afghanistan to "reaffirm the United States's commitment to Afghan women and to underscore the President and Secretary's personal commitment to women's rights."

In her report, Ambassador Verveer said that "the women in Afghanistan are critical to progress and stability in their war-torn country ... only by men and women working together can Afghanistan move forward. We know that no country can prosper if half its people are left behind. And as the President said in Cairo, we recognize that our daughters can contribute as much to society as our sons. The truth of the matter is that countries that repress women also tend to be backward economically, and are more likely to be failed states."

In Ambassador Verveer's introductory remarks, she outlined three main issues; "First, we are reshaping our programs and intensifying our efforts to help women to participate more fully in society, thereby helping them to increase their contributions to their communities and their country. This includes working with men, working with community leaders to make it possible for men and women to jointly determine Afghanistan's future. Second, Afghanistan is in the midst of an election campaign both for president and for the provincial councils. We have called for a campaign that is credible, inclusive, and secure, where men and women candidates can campaign with no restrictions on their freedom of movement and can be assured of protection. Further, the candidates should engage in a vigorous debate on all issues, including issues of concern to women. And women are likewise raising issues of concern to them with the candidates. More women are running for provincial councils than did in the last election. And my travels took me to the Baghdis province, which is one of the poorest and remote parts of Afghanistan. And there, 11 impressive women are running for the provincial council, hoping to make a difference for the future of their country. Women want to be part of the solution. [And] Third, there is progress in some areas, but not in others. Security remains a paramount challenge. Violence against women and girls is endemic and much remains to be done, including access to institutions of justice, civic education, and prosecution of the crimes. More girls are in school, but the Taliban have eroded some of that progress. Last year alone, they burned or shut down more than 700 schools, and thousands of girls are now without access to formal education."

Ambassador Verveer stressed that "more women are participating politically in the parliament and in local government. Many are engaged in the media, which is defined by freedom of expression. Civil society is more robust. Women's organizations increasingly speak with a collective voice and act in a coordinated fashion. They are a stronger and more unified constituency today than in a few years back. And there is a cadre of women leaders – business, government, and media, civil society – and they are an impressive group, yet their potential is not fully tapped. There is only one minister in the cabinet and she is powerless. There is a low percentage of women in the civil service. There is only one governor, in Bamiyan. And women are rarely invited to decision-making forums."

In closing, Ambassador Verveer said that "economic opportunity is critical if the people are going to see results in their everyday lives, and we are committed to a greater focus on activities like agriculture, animal husbandry, and other kinds of productive livelihoods, including access to micro-credit focused on very small business development, which is also critically important. Progress in Afghanistan must be measured not just in military terms, but also in terms of social, political, and economic participation of women in rebuilding Afghanistan and in the safeguarding of their human rights."

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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