US and the world should stand with women in Afghanistan
In the first year of his presidency, President Trump signed the Women, Peace and Security Act into law. This important bipartisan legislation recognizes that including women in conflict prevention and resolution will promote more inclusive and democratic societies. It’s in the interest of the United States and in the interest of the world.
This legislation is the first of its kind globally, making the United States the first country with a law addressing women, peace and security. Just this past week, the Trump administration delivered the first government strategy that will direct how the United States government will implement the law and empower women around the world before, during and after conflict.
The need for and promise of this effort is evident when considering countries like Afghanistan, where the United States has been working closely with the government there for almost two decades, since the Taliban was toppled, to make progress on behalf of women.
Since the Taliban government fell, millions of Afghan women have voted in local and national elections. For years, these women have played a role seeking to end the conflict.
In 2002, the United States Afghan Women’s Council (USAWC) was created as a Presidential Initiative under President George W. Bush. This effort was a joint U.S.-Afghan effort to promote public-private partnerships and mobilize resources to ensure that women can gain the skills and economic opportunities they had been deprived of under the Taliban.
The work of the USAWC has flourished through the years and is a concrete example of progress that is possible when the United States invests in women abroad.
A case in point is the Afghan Fulbright Program. This educational program offers grants to qualified Afghan graduate students to study at the graduate level in the United States. In 2002, there were no women qualified to apply, due to years of being denied access to education. Today, half the applicants are women and the Afghan Fulbright Program is one of the largest in the world.
In fact, Afghan Ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani (and the first female) is a Fulbright alumnus.
Efforts to include women in the peace process isn’t just a feel good, diversity effort. History has shown that women’s participation in peace processes increases the likelihood of success in reaching agreements and the subsequent longevity of those agreements. According to studies conducted by the United Nations, when women have a substantive role in peace negotiations the likelihood the agreement will last beyond fifteen years increases by as much as 35 percent.
That’s why it is within the national interest of the United States to ensure the participation of women in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and a true demonstration of our global leadership. It isn’t always easy; we have recently seen women being excluded from the peace talks in Doha. Many Afghan women have expressed concerns that a U.S.-Taliban peace deal could jeopardize the rights and freedoms they have enjoyed these past eighteen years. There is fear the rights of women could be bargained away.
This ongoing peace process in Afghanistan will be a real test of the commitment we make to women around the world. It will be evidence of how seriously we will implement the new Women, Peace and Security Government Strategy.
We know women are essential to the development of open and prosperous societies. When we invest in women, and promote their economic empowerment and right to equal treatment under the law, we are promoting peace and stability and changing the very nature of society.
Let’s stand strong with the women of Afghanistan.
Andrea Bottner is a senior advisor to Independent Women’s Forum, on the Women, Peace and Security Act.
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