Bombs, bullets and burkas? It's the bravery and boldness of Afghan women we must support
Bombs. Bullets. Burkas.
When I say “Afghan women”, are these the words that spring to mind? If so, it wouldn’t surprise me, because it seems that barely a week goes by without a media story appearing about an Afghan woman being shot or attacked.
When I heard last week that a ten-year-old Afghan girl had been detained at a checkpoint by the Afghan authorities as a “suicide bomber”, wearing a vest strapping bombs to her small body, my heart sank. What awful circumstances must this child have experienced to end up in such a situation?
Some of these circumstances have since become clear, with the girl - known only as Spozhmai - telling the BBC that her Taliban family had forced her to wear the vest (as if her lack of personal blame wasn’t already obvious) and that she’d been treated as a slave by her family.
'My brother told me you are here in this world and you will die, you are not here to learn or do other things.'
Spozhmai, aged 10
Sadly, though this is an extreme case, the second-class status and abuse experienced by Spozhmai in her family is common for Afghan women and girls. Violence against women is endemic and doesn’t seem to be abating, affecting women both within their families and outside of them.
In early January another female government worker was murdered by unknown attackers in Herat. By my count this is the ninth case of a high-profile Afghan woman activist being attacked because of her work in the last six months alone. That's an average of one attack every 20 days. When high-profile women are attacked so regularly and - almost exclusively - with impunity, what hope do other women have?
It’s all very well for David Cameron to describe the security situation in Afghanistan as “mission accomplished”, but tell that to the families of the three policewomen murdered in the last few months, or to the female parliamentarian whose eight-year-old daughter was killed in an attack from which she only narrowly escaped.
In fact it is extremely disappointing that Cameron, whilst giving evidence in parliament recently, said that the UK’s priority in Afghanistan is security; the role of women comes “below” that.
To say that that the PM has missed the point somewhat here is putting it lightly. Whose security is he talking about if not the security of 50% of the population? Women’s rights and security are not optional extras to be considered once the “real” security (men’s security?) is sorted out.
As a number of international agreements – which the UK is signed up to – point out, women’s rights and participation are central to achieving peace. Without women’s safe contribution, there can be no meaningful peace in Afghanistan. If the UK’s primary objective is security, women’s security has to be a fundamental part of that.
What fragile progress on women’s rights there has been in recent years is down to the work of Afghan women activists, and it will be down to them to ensure that progress is protected and bettered in the months and years ahead. But their ability to do so will be seriously undermined if their security cannot be assured.
The UK must prioritise improving support and protection to Afghan women, particularly activists: the brave teachers, civil society activists, parliamentarians and policewomen who are truly on the frontline of pushing for peace and security in their country and are too often met with violence and attacks in response.
So do the words “bombs”, “bullets” and “burkas” tell you everything you need to know about Afghan women? No. Not even close. Because Afghan women are fighting those bombs and bullets with bravery and boldness, and they're asking the people of the UK to support them. Join them in their fight … and call for the UK to do the same.
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