CHICAGO - As world leaders gather in Chicago to discuss the future of Afghanistan, human rights groups say Afghan women are being left out of the conversation. Afghan activists say they fear gains made in women's rights since the fall of the Taliban will be erased after foreign troops leave the war-torn country.
Like so many Afghans, Manizha Naderi has concerns about the fate of her country after 2014, when international forces complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan after more than a decade of war.
"The whole country could fall apart; civil war could ensue. Everything that we have gained in 10 years can be undone if [the] U.S. and NATO leave too fast or too abruptly," she said.
Women in Afghanistan have gained numerous rights since the Taliban-led government was ousted in 2001. Under Taliban rule, women were not allowed to work, receive an education or leave their homes unless they were escorted by a man.
A great deal has changed since then. Afifa Azim is co-founder of the Afghan Women’s Network, an umbrella group of nearly 100 non-governmental organizations.
"After they removed [the] Taliban from power, with the support of the international community and NATO, women started to work. Girls returned to school, women worked at public spaces and in the government bodies," she said.
But Afghan and international human rights activists worry that this progress will be quickly erased once foreign troops leave. Activists say women are being excluded as NATO leaders meet to discuss the security transition and the future of Afghanistan.
Activist Manizha Naderi said, “Women comprise 50 percent of [the] population, and they have not been consulted in any of this, not the transition, not reconstruction, not the negotiations. They haven’t been consulted at all.”
On the sidelines of the NATO summit in Chicago, the human rights monitoring group Amnesty International issued an open letter, urging U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to keep their promise to safeguard women’s rights and freedoms.
The letter, signed by dignitaries, including former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, lays out steps to protect Afghan women's rights.
Frank Jannuzi is Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International’s Washington office. "Afghan women [should be] participating in both the national and the local level in the peace process - in the planning, in the negotiations and the execution. We would like to see a trust fund established to ensure that Afghan women and also civil society will be supported in the years ahead," he said.
Participants here at this “shadow summit” for women say history has shown that societies with empowered, educated and engaged women enjoy peace, prosperity and good governance.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “We have to figure out why, and to persuade everybody that having women’s rights and women being on various groups is the best way to ensure a better life for everybody, not just for women, but for everybody.”
With 3 million girls in school and roughly a third of parliamentary seats held by women in Afghanistan, Amnesty International and other groups want to see women make up 30 percent of the negotiating teams involved in peace talks to end the Afghan war.