'Talk to me, not about me': Afghan women left out in the cold by NATO

This week world leaders converge upon Newport for the NATO summit. There’s a crowded agenda and Afghanistan is no longer at the front of people’s minds, but this is a key moment for the country. NATO states will debate the training and support mission staying in-country after military forces leave, but will this mission take into account the needs of Afghan women?

Afghanistan is still one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Huge numbers of Afghan women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime - half of all women imprisoned were arrested for ‘running away’ from abusive family members. And whilst girls’ education has improved greatly, girls’ schools continue to be attacked, their teachers threatened.

Governments like ours have played a major role in trying to change that culture of violence and second-class citizenry, promoting equality for Afghan women and encouraging them to take up more public roles. These were values common in Afghanistan in the 50s and 60s.

But as the summer begins to fade here in the UK, so do the promises made to Afghan women by the UK government.

The spring was full of promise. Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie headed a global initiative - the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI) Summit. They championed women’s rights on a global scale, recognising the importance of personal security and the vital role that women play on the front lines of so many conflicts. Then Dr D and Parwin came to London and met with Baroness Warsi, and the Foreign Office started to look more seriously at what protection it could offer to Afghan women.

But now in the fading light and approaching autumn, promises made so recently at the PSVI summit about women’s participation have been ignored at the NATO summit. This is the first opportunity for the UK Government to deliver on the commitments it made at the PSVI summit. 

And so today the NATO summit has begun and I have to ask, where are all the women? Left out in the cold?

There is no space for Afghan women to speak at the NATO summit and share their insights on the violence they face and the security available to them - or lack of it. Groups like the Afghan Women’s Network spoke to women around the country to ensure their voices would be heard and instead they’re locked out.

Decisions that will undoubtedly affect the future of their country have been taken away from Afghan women. Instead, they’ll be decided by men they have never met, in a country they have never been to. When women are sidelined in negotiations, issues relating to women are so often ignored.

It’s essential that the UK government are publically held to account for the promises they have made to Afghan women. That’s why we went to Cardiff today to highlight the appalling statistic that over the past 25 years only 1 in every 40 peace treaty signatories globally has been a woman. After the promises made at the PSVI summit women shouldn't have to ask to be at the table.

‘Talk to me, not about me’ isn’t a statement Afghan women should need to make. But  Afghan women have been utterly sidelined from the NATO conference, and their security is not being properly discussed.

Security isn’t just about the military.  Security - a secure, stable future - requires a society where everyone is able to feel safe leaving the house in the morning and doing their jobs. The country won’t have peace as long as its women teachers, doctors, police officers and politicians are not safe.

Join us today and remind the UK government that security doesn’t end with the Afghan armed forces. Remind them that everyone should feel safe when going to work. Remind them of the promises they made to Afghan women when they encouraged them (rightly) to push for equality. There’s still time, just, to bring Afghan women out from the cold.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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