‘Talk to me, not about me’: Afghan women left out in the cold by NATO
World leaders are converging this week on Newport, Wales for the NATO summit. The agenda is extremely full and Afghanistan is no longer at the forefront of people’s concerns. Nevertheless, it is a key moment for Afghanistan. NATO states will debate a training and support mission for staying in Afghanistan 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 there were arrested for ‘running away’ from abusive family members. And although girls’ education has improved greatly, girls’ schools continue to be attacked and their teachers threatened.
Governments like ours in the UK 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 1950s and ‘60s.
But as the summer begins to wane here in the UK, the promises made to Afghan women by the UK government are also disappearing.
The spring was full of hope. 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. After the visit of Dr. D and Parwin to London, where they met with Baroness Warsi, the Foreign Office started to take a more serious look at what protection it could offer to Afghan women.
But now, in the fading light of approaching autumn, the promises so recently made at the PSVI summit regarding women’s participation have been completely ignored at the NATO summit. The moment follow through was called for, the UK government failed to demonstrate its commitments were not just lip service.
Today the NATO summit has begun and I have to ask, where are all the women? Undeniably 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 the 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 are locked out.
The chance for participation in decision making that will undoubtedly affect the future of them and their country has been taken away from Afghan women. Instead, the decisions will be decided by men whom they have never met, in a country they have never been to. When women are sidelined in negotiations, issues relating to women are commonly ignored.
It is essential that the UK government is publically held to account for its broken promises to Afghan women. That is why we travelled 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 by Hague at the PSVI summit, we should not have to remind world leaders that it is a public wrongdoing to ignore half of a country’s population.
‘Talk to me, not about me’ is not a statement Afghan women should need to make. But Afghan women have been utterly discounted in the NATO conference, and their security is not being adequately 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 to (rightly) push for equality.