In November 2001, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan First Lady Laura Bush referred to the war in Afghanistan as the "war for women's rights". One year since the U.S. military completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan this war is being lost and Afghan women once again need the help of the U.S.
After the U.S.-led NATO mission toppled the Taliban's first regime, Western forces and their Afghan military allies worked with Afghan women to regain the rights that had been stripped away. In 2020, Shamsia Alizada, a Hazara girl who survived an ISIS attack on her academy, scored highest out of 170,000 in the annual national university entrance exam. By 2021, 27% of the Afghan parliament and 21% of civil servants were women. Women had a vibrant and active presence in media and civil society. Girls in the remotest parts of the country were able to attend school. Young women were enrolled in national government and private universities in all different faculties from fine arts to medical universities, literature, and engineering. Women were free to sing, dance, play sports, and lead civic movements and social reform in their communities.
Afghan women were key allies of the NATO mission in Afghanistan that led to these freedoms and, as a result, many paid the ultimate sacrifice. For example, in 2006 the Taliban killed Safia Ama Jan an educator, activist, and politician. In 2008, Lieutenant Colonel Malalai Kakar, the first woman to graduate from the Kandahar Police Academy and one of only a few dozen female police officers in the province, was shot dead in her car. More recently, in 2020 Freshta Kohistani, an activist who protested violence against women, was assassinated. While their memories live on, their murderers remain unknown and unpunished.
In August 2021, the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan with promises that their rule would be different. But these words have proven to be hollow. Afghan women are once again confined to their homes; deprived of basic rights to free movement, employment, education, and the right to choose what to wear. Over the past year, the interim government has issued 34 decrees with the aim to control every aspect of the lives of Afghan women. Women who are brave enough to peacefully protest these heinous restrictions are met with violence. Over the course of a year, women have been removed from playing core role in Afghan society to being imprisoned and tortured for immoral behavior. Despite these obstacles, they have not stopped fighting for their rights. Although they feel abandoned by the international community, and the US in particular, in their struggle against the Taliban's oppression.
Afghan women desperately need the help of their U.S. allies once again. And in turn, America has a moral obligation to come to their aid. In order to fulfill its promises, the U.S. must:
Identify pathways to safety for Afghan women journalists, activists, and former government and military members who continue to face prosecution under the Taliban.
Pressure the Taliban to abide by the Doha Agreement that ended hostilities with the U.S. Among its obligations are the creation of an inclusive government, respect for freedom of expression and media freedom, and the protection of women's rights.
Ensure the participation of women human rights defenders, civil society members, and minorities in negotiations with the Taliban.
Urge the U.N. Security Council to end its waiver of sanctions on Taliban leaders.
The women of Afghanistan are grateful for the support of the U.S. and its allies. But the test of true friendship is where you are when times are the hardest. Right now, the U.S. is nowhere to be seen.
Maran Turner is the Executive Director of Freedom Now, a nonprofit organization that protects individuals and communities from government repression and defends human rights through direct legal support, targeted high-leverage advocacy, and capacity-building analysis and assistance.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Afghan women are under repression and need international intervention