Afghanistan: Promises alone are not enough

Horrific footage has emerged of a woman being killed in Afghanistan. The Guardian and others are reporting that she had been accused of adultery, and that her murder seems to be in retribution for this alleged ‘crime’.

The attack provides a stark reminder, if one were needed, of the fragility of women’s rights in the country.

The timing of the video is worrying apt.  I was among representatives from all over the world who arrived in Tokyo in the first week of July to decide the future of development in Afghanistan. I was there to work with Afghan and international civil society organizations to urge governments not to sidelined women’s rights in the process. 

In the end over $16bn (£10bn) in aid was pledged over the next four years.

But, as this video powerfully shows, and as Afghan civil society (and others, including myself and Horia, Amnesty’s researcher on Afghanistan) kept reminding officials and government representatives, women’s rights are essential for sustainable peace and development.

What of women’s rights?

After the action you took back in June, UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said ‘empowering [Afghan] women to continue the great change that has taken place in Afghan society and the role of women … is incredibly important to the international community and to the British government’. Watch his speech in full

He’s not wrong. The numbers speak for themselves - statistics show that 87% of Afghan women have experienced violence, 62% experiencing it in the home. Maternal mortality rates are one of the highest in the world:one Afghan woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth every 2 hours.

It might not come as much of a surprise, then, that many consider Afghanistan one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.

It’s not all terrible, though. And we must work hard to protect the fragile gains made in the last few years.

The constitution now enshrines equal rights for women and men. The number of girls in school has risen from less than 5000 under the Taliban to over 2million. It should also be acknowledged that there are more female MPs in the Afghan Parliament than there are in the UK.

So did the Tokyo Conference deliver for women?

Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news. Shall we do the good first?

In the ‘Civil Society side conference’ (where all the charities, NGOs and community groups met), government speakers from around the world said they would not walk away from women’s rights. Not all of them, but most.

Women’s rights are even mentioned in the Tokyo Declaration. It pledges to use progress in women’s rights to measure progress – drawing on the implementation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan as key indicators.  

All sounds quite positive, no? Unfortunately, it’s time to share the bad.

Afghan civil society organisations say promises on women’s rights are too vague. They point out that solid measures such as a commitment to women’s involvement in decision-making processes should have been included,

If the fragile gains made over the last decade are going to be sustained it is essential that promises to protect and promote women’s rights are put into action, words alone can never be enough.

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