The U.S. and other international groups interested in the fate of Afghan women should not stop with this success. They should keep on pressing and move Afghan's women's rights to the top of the country's agenda. Without vigilance, there will be retrogression, as the marital rape law's enactment shows.
The Women's Media Center last week posted a piece by Prof. Patricia DeGennaro, who teaches at New York University's Center for Global Affairs and has spent significant time working in Afghanistan. She referred to the then ongoing conference on Afghanistan and said, "Afghan women are conspicuously missing. It seems that international rhetoric for women does not translate into any vigorous action."
She's right that it should. And with U.S. troops and resources in Afghanistan, we have the clout to make sure women participate in government there in numbers equal to their percentage of the population. This is one instance where women's rights are truly critical to the United States military mission's success. The Taliban has been bombing schools for girls while trying to retake parts of the country. Last weekend, a video was posted on the Internet of a 17-year-old girl being mercilessly beaten in public by the Taliban in the Swat valley of the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. We all know the Taliban bases its training camps in Northwest Pakistan, whence it sends troops into Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai's first reaction to Western dismay over his signing of the marital rape law was to excuse the publicity as a "misunderstanding" by Western media of the true intent and effect of the law. It was only when pressure continued that he gave up and barred its enforcement.
Unless women participate equally in Afghanistan's democracy, government, and peace negotiations, the Taliban won't get the message that it can no longer control and oppress Afghanistan's female population. Oppressing Afghan women is part and parcel of the Taliban's war effort. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should make clear that U.S. military and financial support of democracy in Afghanistan depends on that country defeating the Taliban on that front. Something tells me she will.
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By Bonnie Erbe