10 years on: women's stories from Afghanistan

Nine out of ten women in Afghanistan are worried about the Taliban returning to government believing it would risk the gains made for women in the past ten years, according to ActionAid report A Just Peace? The legacy of war for the women of Afghanistan, released today.

A thousand women were polled across Afghanistan to obtain a rare insight into their opinions about living through the last 10 years of war and the current reconciliation process with the Taliban.

Afghanistan self-immolationShogofa, 18, from a village in the western province of Herat, suffered 65% burns after setting herself on fire.

Friday 7 October marks the 10th anniversary of US and British forces’ intervention in Afghanistan. Sixty-six per cent of women said they feel safer now than they did 10 years ago and 72 per cent believe their lives are better now than they were 10 years ago.

Nearly four in ten think Afghanistan will become a worse place if international troops leave. Of those who fear a return of the Taliban, one in five cited their daughter’s education as the main concern.

ActionAid’s Director of Policy, Belinda Calaguas, said: “In 2001 our leaders went into war in Afghanistan saying that improving women’s rights was a goal of intervention. Ten years on as the international community begins withdrawing troops and enters into peace talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, women are being frozen out of the process and are worried that their rights are being traded away for peace.”

ActionAid’s report calls on the international community to ensure that women’s rights are a non-negotiable part of any political settlement in Afghanistan.

“All parties involved must make public statements that the equal rights for men and women that are enshrined in the Afghan constitution – including women’s right to education, to work, and to participate in public life – are sacred and will never be overturned,” said Ms Calaguas.

In addition Afghan women must be actively involved in the peace, reconciliation and transition processes.

ActionAid Afghanistan country director PV Krishnan said: “If Afghan women are excluded from decision making on the future of their country we risk not only sacrificing the gains made for women over the past ten years, but Afghanistan will be a less stable society as a result.”

Women in Afghanistan who have stood up for women’s rights in the past ten years, including teachers, female politicians and activists are now afraid for their own safety if the Taliban return to power, with some saying they will be forced to leave the country.

ActionAid calls on the UK government and the international community to protect women who have defended women’s human rights in Afghanistan in the last ten years, to support women’s organisations with direct, long-term funding and to ensure that women’s voices and views are heard at the Bonn conference in December, where the international community will discuss Afghanistan’s future.

Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan MP who has said she will stand in the 2014 presidential election, will be in the UK from October 3 to 7 and will be speaking at an ActionAid event on women in Afghanistan at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

“Leaders in the UK must not abandon the women of Afghanistan at this crucial time,” she said. “I urge Prime Minister David Cameron to show leadership on this issue and use his influence to make sure that women’s rights in Afghanistan remain at the top of the agenda and are not sacrificed for peace.”