Last night I was fortunate enough to join an Amnesty International panel discussing the future of women's rights in Afghanistan. Amnesty had brought prominent Afghan activist (and Lowy Institute contributor) Wazhma Frogh to Australia to discuss her concerns about what the transition of foreign forces in Afghanistan will mean for women.
Wazhma is particularly concerned that women's rights will be traded away as part of the peace and reconciliation process, and that the increased militarisation of warlord groups and local police will have consequences for women once responsibility for security is handed to Afghan forces. She has been talking to Australian parliamentarians, including the Defence Minister (currently in Afghanistan), about the need to use Australia's position on the UN Security Council to effectively monitor what happens to women in Afghanistan post 2014.
The plight of Afghan women is one of the few issues which can cut through the apathy on Afghanistan in Australia. Both sides of government will be watching keenly to make sure that the fragile gains made for Afghan women in the past decade are not eroded in years to come. But once the ADF leaves Uruzgan later this year, Australian support will be expressed through development assistance and diplomatic efforts rather than monitoring and engagement with women on the ground. This TLO report details the fragile progress that has been made for women in Uruzgan province, where Australian military forces are based.
I was particularly struck by how simple problems are often so critical for campaigners for women's rights in Afghanistan. One of the panellists made the point that a female leader was recently killed in Laghman province because she couldn't afford a car, and was travelling long distances to attend meetings on a rickshaw.
My prepared remarks for the panel on women in Afghanistan can be found here.
Photo: Wazhma Frogh (centre) with Amnesty panel.