Women’s rights: obvious litmus for success in Afghanistan

Today saw the publication of the findings of the International Development Committee’s (IDC) parliamenary inquiry into the UK’s intervention in Afghanistan. After months of research and evidence gathering, the Committee concluded that when we are due to pull out in 2014, women’s rights will be the litmus test for whether our work in the country could be considered a success – exactly what ActionAid has been saying (pdf) should be the case. [Disclosure: I work at ActionAid and am directly involved in this work on women’s rights in Afghanistan.]

For those of us who are active or have been following the campaigns to protect and promote Afghan women’s rights, including on this blog, the constant stories of the latest horrible thing that has happened to women and girls in the country can be extremely enraging. Almost 9 in 10 women is a survivor of some form of gender-based violence and maternal mortality rates are still amongst the worst in the world.

Evidence from the World Bank and others has consistently shown that gender equality and women’s rights are directly correlated with peace, democracy, economic growth – name your positive agenda. Violence against women meanwhile has been particularly shown (pdf) to be a drain on countries’ resources, undermining development efforts that might otherwise meet with success, in addition to being the most widespread and pervasive human rights violation in the world.

Women’s rights were offered as the justification for intervening in Afghanistan over a decade ago. And women’s rights activists have been clear about what a positive difference this intervention has made. But current work by ActionAid in Afghanistan is showing that these gains, hard fought and critical, are under constant threat. In fact, things have been getting worse as we move closer to the time when we are set to pull out of the country.

It is perhaps for these reasons that women’s rights and violence against women were included as clear indicators in the recent strategy meeting about the future of Afghanistan that was held in Tokyo, which I blogged about earlier this year. Unfortunately, only the Australian Government announced dedicated funding on women’s rights at Tokyo, pledging USD 17 million towards tackling violence against women.

Research by ActionAid has estimated (pdf) that it would take a minimum of USD 90 million over five years for the Afghan Government to meet its *existing* commitments to tackle violence against women and girls. This includes implementing the ground-breaking and on-paper strong Elimination of Violence Against Women Law. But to date no other governments have stepped up to commit how they will help meet this financing need to ensure things change in practice.

The IDC’s report is extremely welcome for clearly setting out why women’s rights must be at the heart of what we are trying to do in Afghanistan if we are to be able to keep our heads up. Afghan women are risking their lives to try and rebuild their country. We told them we would have their backs in this process. Now is the time to keep that promise.

Photo of 4 bottles of blue litmus paper, by rosefirerising, shared under a Creative Commons License