Foreign Policy Blogs

Afghanistan's Women in Charge

Continuing yesterday's thread, I would like to highlight one major aspect of progress in Afghanistan; the role of women in the workplace and in society as a whole. To do this I will showcase the stories of a few particular women, and unfortunately in their stories there is great suffering and too visible of signs of how far the nation needs to go to be a place where there is equal opportunity and rights for all citizens. However, these stories which you are about to hear would be impossible before the Taliban's removal in 2001 and would surely become negligible in the near future if the Taliban gained control back over more and more parts of the country.

Malalai Kakar became Police Lt.-Col. Malalai Kakar soon after the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 and she quickly rose to become Afghanistan's highest ranking female police officer. Her bravery and will lead her to use her position to fight for and protect Afghan women suffering from domestic violence and other crimes. She chose this vocation knowing full well the threat to her physical life and in fact received death threats on a frequent basis. Unfortunately, her personal story ends on a tragic note, as perpetrators claiming to be members of the Taliban, finally murdered her and severely injured her son in late September. Kaker was obviously viewed as a mortal threat to the Taliban's existence and way of life. If any one story personifies what is right and what is wrong, this has to be it. Kakar's murderers need to be brought to justice, the Afghan populace needs to see that this is unacceptable and these wrongdoers will need to be seen paying their debt to society.

Unfortunately, this next story highlights that even the government and the country's judicial system are at times anti-women's and equal rights. Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist, had a life sentence commuted to just 20 years in jail! for distributing an article critical of Muhammad's treatment of women's rights. What Kambakhsh wrote may have been offensive, but offensiveness should not translate to jail time or a death sentence. If the Afghan government is to reform the judicial system must become a greater voice and pillar of a constitution based on equality and freedom of speech.

Otherwise women and others who are oppressed will fear to speak out for their rights and well-being. Farida Nekzad, managing editor for Pajhwok Afghan News, discusses the dangers from all directions for those who dare to speak out for women's rights and safety:
“When the reporters write about these issues, the ruling power does not want to tolerate it, does not want these issues to be heard by people or to be talked about,” she says. “When a woman leader comes out and talks about the issues of women's rights, women's freedom, and freedom of speech, that woman is in a lot of danger.”

So this trip through the progress of Afghan women has been bumpy to say the least, and this will no doubt continue, but I want to leave you a story of a group of women in the Bamian Province. These women now hold law enforcement positions, can drive a car, and a woman is actually governor of the entire province. I would like to say that this is a happy ending to my piece today, and in many ways it is, but we must know, as this group of women surely does, that their current way of life is being threatened everyday by the Taliban, other extremists, and at times their own government, and only time will tell what the future holds. But one things for sure, these women are extremely brave and their courage is no doubt an inspiration to all those who will hopefully follow in their footsteps. Enjoy the video.

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Patrick Frost
Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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