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Women Activists Call for Long-Term US Presence in Afghanistan

  • Deborah Tate

A group of prominent female human-rights activists is urging the United States to consider a long-term commitment to Afghanistan as the Obama administration begins deploying 30,000 more troops to the country to counter the Taliban insurgency. The women made their appeal at a recent gathering in Washington, following President Barack Obama's announcement of the troop surge.

The American women activists are advocating a U.S. long-term commitment to Afghanistan in hopes of instilling security and basic human rights for Afghan women.

President Obama is hoping increased U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan will allow U.S. and Afghan forces to make significant progress toward dismantling al-Qaida and weakening the Taliban so U.S. forces will be able to begin withdrawing in about 18 months.

But the female human-rights activists do not feel that this is enough time to alleviate the dire situation for Afghan women.

The founder of Women for Afghan Women, Sunita Viswanath, says if the United States walks away from Afghanistan too soon, the progress her organization has made for Afghan women will be lost.

"If the direction of the U.S. involvement reverses and we in any way diminish our commitment to Afghanistan, that progress in Afghanistan will be obliterated overnight. And we will be back in the dark ages, before 9/11, where women did not have freedom of movement, they were flogged in the street for small infractions, and as we all remember the images that we saw of women who were publicly executed. This is what will happen. We are certain of this if the U.S. withdraws from the Afghanistan," said Sunita Viswanath.

Human Rights Watch Senior Afghanistan Researcher Rachel Reed, a member of Women for Afghan Women, agreed long-term commitment in Afghanistan will help the organization grow and expand into more cities.

"I would hope that we would see a long-term, sustainable commitment, including lots of development assistance and development assistance that is not just done through the U.S. aid contractors, but actually goes to organizations like this who work on the ground and have much more chance of success in doing the really difficult work in shifting the attitudes. It is really going to take a long time to substantially change the lives of Afghan women and girls. And that needs long-term investment," said Reed.

In an interview with Voice of America, Nasreen Gross, the head of the Roquia Center for Women's Rights Studies and Education in Afghanistan, says that she strongly supports President Obama's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, but she hopes the Afghan government will be willing to focus and address the needs of Afghan women.

"What has happened, of course, is that the Karzai administration has decreased its support for Afghan women since the promulgation of the Constitution of 2004. What we need to do is to make it very clear that the women's issue is a non-negotiable issue," she said.

Afghan Parliament member Azita Rafat is a board member of the Movement of Afghan Sisters who says additional U.S. troops may not affect the plight of Afghan women. But she agrees Afghanistan needs a long-term humanitarian commitment from the United States and the rest of the international community to stabilize the government and help Afghan women.

"The increase in the soldiers will not be helping the lives of Afghan women because there are other issues that are causing Afghan women to suffer and we have to take care of those issues," she said. "Removing poverty with long-term projects and education is very important for all Afghan women to reach their own rights; the rights that are in the Constitution ... We really need the help of our international friends, especially when we pass some laws, which includes the women's rights."

The activists say to lessen the struggles for Afghan women, the United States needs to develop a long-term strategy that will address security issues and essentially allow Afghan women to pursue education, healthcare, and economic opportunities.

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