BRUSSELS, Belgium- Since 2001, international troops have had a large presence throughout Afghanistan. During the last twelve years, Afghanistan has seen much progress. Women have developed careers, there are women’s rights organizations, and girls’ attendance in school has increased. As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) moves to withdrawal most troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the most vulnerable are expressing concerns.
Many expect the Taliban to take over the Afghan government once NATO forces leave. As women’s rights has been a major point of divergence between the international communities and the Afghan government, women and girls will suffer the most.
In the provinces of Laghman and Nangarhar, reports indicate that women and girls are already demonstrating fear for their security. The new joint report by CordAid, the Afghan Women’s Network, and the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization indicates that there has been a decrease in the past six months of employed women and girl school attendance. These actions will ultimately affect access to education and health services for women and girls resulting in malnutrition, death of preventable diseases, gender inequality, and high child mortality rates.
There are currently over 100,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, with the United States and Britain having the most troops. 68,000 are U.S. troops and 8,000 are British. By early 2014, 34,000 U.S. troops will withdrawal, with more following at the end of the year. Over the summer 3,000 British troops withdrew and the rest will follow at the end of 2014.
One of the main reasons for NATO’s presence in Afghanistan has been to make it a more secure place, a place where Al-Qaeda’s strength is diminished. Overall, analysts agree that NATO has been successful, however as NATO forces begin to withdraw, civilian causalities have increased. In the first half of this year, civilian casualties have increased by 24 percent compared with 2012 statistics.
NATO’s other main role has been to develop a strong Afghan security force. The Afghan National Army (ANA), responsible for ground warfare, currently has 185,000 trained members. There are about the same number of less trained police. Only time will tell if these forces are capable of keeping the vulnerable Afghan citizens safe once NATO troops fully withdrawal.
Although many Afghan citizens do not support NATO presence, there is still fear of the Taliban returning once NATO troops fully withdrawal. Return of the Taliban would adversely affect women’s organizations and rights groups, whose security would be at high risk with worsening national security. In order to prevent complete regression of social of progress, an increase in development programs is necessary in Afghanistan.
As many NGO’s will most likely pull out of Afghanistan as NATO troops withdraw, donors are encouraged to provide funding to skill transfer initiatives that would help national organizations to secure funding. Donors are also encouraged to explore ways of increasing alliances between women’s groups and the Central Statistics Organization (CSO). Lastly, donors should explore ways of helping women boost their economic basis, which would help advocacy on women’s rights become more successful.
Women’s rights are essential in combating global poverty. As gender equality increases, empowerment of women increases. Through the empowerment of women, issues such as poverty, wellness, and education improve.
Keeping girls in school also combats global poverty. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Every literate woman marks a victory over poverty. Literate women strengthen the development of their country by reducing mortality rates, increasing child and maternal health, and ensuring ongoing literacy for girls.”
Afghani women and girls have gained so much empowerment in the last decade. Through continued donor support for development programs in Afghanistan, this progress will not be lost.
– Caressa Kruth