This weekend sees the international community gather in Tokyo to discuss plans to help fund development there over the next 10 years. Addressing a meeting of British parliamentarians, I asked them to imagine the lives of Afghan women today, a life in which….
>> Going out in the street exposes one to the risk of bombing or shooting, compounded by the ever-present threat of sexual assault
>> Heading to work, attending school or visiting a clinic means running the gauntlet of acid attacks, poisonings, arson, even assassination attempts
>> Home is not a sanctuary, but more likely a place of abuse and brutality. 87% of women report experiencing domestic violence.
>> If you are brave – or desperate – enough to try to flee such conditions, you run the risk of castigation by family, the community and even government ministers. You may even face prosecution for adultery or prostitution. And, it is increasingly likely that you will find that shelters’ doors are closed due to lack of funds.
This is the daily reality for millions of Afghan women.
You may be asking yourselves, what has happened to the fine vision of greater freedom for women so forcefully championed as aim of the military intervention?
There have been real and significant achievements in education, health and women’s participation. There are even laws and policies that could, if implemented, be the foundation of a real drive to protect women and girls from harm.
At the Tokyo conference, the future security and development of Afghanistan will be discussed and high-level pledges of support are expected. Within this big picture, it is vital to ensure that ending violence against women and girls is a top priority. Anything less would be the breaking of a solemn promise made to the women of Afghanistan 10 years ago.
For there can be no security while women live in fear of attack at home and in the street.
There can be no growth without women's participation in the economy.
There can be no development without women’s contribution to health, education and government.
We leave it up to the Afghan government to act, Tokyo must result in specific earmarked funds for initiatives to tackle violence against women and girls, and we must send a clear message about the expectations of the international community in this respect. A brand new estimate for ActionAid shows that US$90 million would enable the Afghan government to begin to implement the laws and policies it needs.
At Tokyo, the UK will announce a welcome and generous commitment to Afghanistan’s development. They should be commended for this. But they should also be playing a leadership role in putting women’s rights on the agenda and providing funding to end the violence.
US$90 million is such a small price to pay, to bring the dream of ending violence against women and girls at least within reach. Let’s make the legacy of intervention something of which we can all take pride in.