A month of promises and plans for Afghan women. Will they deliver?

The last few months have been exceptionally busy for our women’s rights in Afghanistan campaign. There have been conferences, symposiums and meetings aplenty, all aiming to welcome the new Afghan Government and to set a positive tone of support (from the international community) and reform (of the Afghan Government) for the years to come.

Each of these international meetings presented a huge opportunity for us to ensure that women’s rights weren’t being forgotten or left behind in those messages of support and reform.

Getting our message across in London and Oslo

The biggest of these international meetings was the London Conference on Afghanistan at the start of December.  This was a highly important meeting, where 59 countries came to London to pledge aid and support to Afghanistan.

But a month ahead of the London Conference we were concerned there was no specific time set aside to talk through women’s rights, and the particular dangers Afghan women are facing just doing their jobs. Just weeks before we’d delivered this same message to the NATO summit in Cardiff – reminding world leaders they can’t just talk about women, they need to talk to women.

Because of that shutting out of women’s voices, a symposium on Women’s Rights and Empowerment in Afghanistan in Norway just before became a key moment.

Very encouragingly, Rula Ghani, the First Lady of Afghanistan, led the Afghan Delegation in Norway.  It was incredible to see Mrs Ghani taking up a public role - President Karzai’s wife was not a public figure during his time in office, so this is a very positive move for the new Afghan Government.

The Norway conference was also the first time the UK’s Minister for human rights, Baroness Anelay, spoke about the UK’s plans to support women in Afghanistan. I was very glad to hear her highlight the importance of protecting women openly working as doctors, teachers and lawyers.

Baroness Anelay from @FCOHumanRights says that the UK is prioritising protection of HRDs with EU #AfghanWomenOslo pic.twitter.com/NBreun4lpO

— Kate Hughes (@gingerlings) November 23, 2014

Your campaigning and action-taking over the last few years have reminded the Government at every step that they cannot abandon Afghan women – and publicly hearing the UK promise action was a great step.

Real progress was made by the world leaders attending in Oslo. The Norwegian’s set the bar really high for the London Conference to find room to talk about women’s rights.

And in the end they did find the room. The Afghan Women’s Network – a group Amnesty has worked with for years to ensure women’s voices are heard – addressed the official conference to put across their concerns. Promises were made to strengthen the implementation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law - a key thing the Afghan Women’s Network had been asking for, and a law that was almost watered down by the previous Afghan government.

I’m doubtful these specific promises, which Afghan women will see the results of in their communities, would have happened without your hard work campaigning with us and organisations like the Afghan Women’s Network.

Reinforcing our message: protect Afghan women doing their jobs

The promises and agreements in Oslo and London were encouraging – but we needed to make sure they turned into concrete plans as quickly as possible.

Over the last 3 months thousands of you have signed our petition calling for a clear operational plan to support Afghan women, and last week students from Quintin Kynaston school met with Baroness Anelay to hand in the petition.  The students had met with Afghan teacher Parween earlier this year, and they shared her stories and experiences with the Baroness, and the campaigning that they had done within their school.

On the same day we met Baroness Anelay, the EU published this document outlining their promises and commitments to Afghan women like Parween.  It’s an exciting commitment, signed up to by 18 countries, promising concrete action that should offer real protection and support.

Diplomatic staff will now know who the people at risk are, and they can now turn to diplomats from EU embassies for help. If someone is being targeted and are at imminent risk because of their work, they can now seek temporary protection from an embassy or apply for an emergency visa. Safe houses are promised by the end of next year.

The EU group that signed up to this plan had their first meeting with groups like the Afghan Women’s Network on Monday , showing how quickly they want to turn the words in this document in to practical action, something we really welcome.

So what now for Amnesty’s work on Afghanistan?

The UK’s promises, and the EU group plans offer hope for Afghan women and a vital safety net at a dangerous time.

We’ll continue to work with Afghan women to see if they feel a difference in their day to day lives as these plans are implemented. It’s exciting to see positive steps in the right direction, but we know that it is actions not words that really make the difference.

But don’t just take my word for it. Samira Hamidi from the Afghan Women’s Network is even clearer:

‘This comes at a critical moment for people like me.

‘We are the ones risking life and limb to provide education and health services to women and girls and help women in their communities stay safe and claim their rights.

‘If the UK [and EU] translate their words into action it could literally save lives.

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