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Government warned that efforts on Afghan women have been 'only a drop in the ocean'

*New campaign launched ahead of Women’s Day

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Amnesty International has launched a new campaign on women’s rights in Afghanistan, with a call on the UK government to “significantly improve” its work in support of Afghan women’s rights and in combating violence against women and girls in the country.

UK ministers are being warned that to date the UK’s work on women’s rights in Afghanistan has so far been “only a drop in the ocean”, and that “time is running out” for the UK to contribute to sustainable improvements in women’s rights in the country.

Amnesty has launched a new petition ( ) pressing the International Development Secretary Justine Greening and the Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi to ensure that women’s rights and combating violence against women in Afghanistan are properly prioritised across government, with tangible support for things like women’s shelters and the accelerated recruitment and retention of women police officers.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Time is running out. The Taleban are waiting and watching, and if they see us soft-pedalling on women’s rights they’ll take this as a signal that neither we nor the Afghan government are actually serious about the issue.

“Up to now the UK’s work on women’s rights in Afghanistan has been only a drop in the ocean and it needs to be significantly improved.

“Justine Greening has said combating violence against women in Afghanistan will become a strategic priority for DfID, which is very good news.

“Now we need to see this prioritisation reflected cross-departmentally and at the highest levels of government, with tangible support for things like women’s shelters and the accelerated recruitment and retention of women police officers.

“The bottom line is that there can be no peace in Afghanistan without women’s rights.”

Earlier this week Justine Greening announced that tackling violence against women will be made a “country strategic priority” for DfID in Afghanistan after 2015. This followed lobbying from Amnesty and other groups and was strongly welcomed. The change in prioritisation could mean that new funds are made available for projects like women’s shelters in Afghanistan, which currently has only 14 such places of refuge in the whole of the country.

Though the UK government says it is a “staunch supporter” of Afghan women’s rights, little of its recent work in Afghanistan has specifically focused on women’s rights. DfID has been supporting over 100 reconstruction and development projects (with an annual budget of £178m) in Afghanistan, but only two of these have specifically addressed women’s rights, and both of these were completed in 2010.

Afghan women’s groups have called for the UK to provide sustainable funding and support to tackle violence against women, including by backing the Afghan government’s drive to recruit more women police officers. Currently just one 1% of Afghan police officers are women. Meanwhile, many Afghan women’s groups are concerned that women’s rights could be sacrificed in reconciliation talks with the Taleban, a move Amnesty insists the UK must unconditionally resist in all its diplomatic work on the country. For example, women’s groups point to the fact that the Afghan government’s 70-strong High Peace Council, set up to negotiate a possible peace deal with the Taleban, has only nine women in it.

Since 2001 there have been significant improvements for women and girls in Afghanistan, with new anti-violence laws passed, some 2.4 million girls now enrolled in schools, and women taking an active role in public life (including as MPs, with 27% of MPs in the Afghan parliament women). However there has also been a very large recent upsurge in targeted killings of prominent Afghan women by the Taleban and other armed groups, and schools and schoolteachers - especially girls’ schools - have suffered attacks by anti-education extremists.

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