Security and Women's Rights are Essential to Afghan Recovery
President Ashraf Ghani and a delegation of some 70 plus Afghan leaders came to the US this week to urge Congress and President Obama to extend the deadline for removing support troops from Afghanistan. Afghan public opinion polls have shown that Afghans' top priority is currently security.
"Many Afghan women leaders, as well as other Afghans, have also expressed their concern over security and safety. They fear that pulling virtually all American troops would send the wrong signal to the Taliban and the gains Afghan women and girls have won would be lost if the Taliban was emboldened," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and President its sister action organization, the Feminist Majority. "This is why we recently began a Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign with Afghan Women and Girls Campaign urging President Obama and members of Congress to extend the deadline and keep the remaining US support troops in Afghanistan."
"This is no time to pull out virtually all support troops when women and girls are making progress and the new unity government, pledged to democracy, women's empowerment and rebuilding the nation, is trying to move forward," Smeal continued. "We applaud President's Obama decision to delay the 2015 removal of US troops from Afghanistan."
At the beginning of this week President Obama changed the timeline for removing US support troops. Instead of removing some 5,000 of remaining troops in Afghanistan by December 31, 2015, as had been previously planned, the President announced the US will keep some 9,800 troops through 2015. At this time, he has not changed his decision to remove all troops by December 31, 2016.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's address yesterday to a Joint Session of the United States Congress commended the decision by President Barack Obama to delay the withdrawal of US support troops in Afghanistan and to allow the current level of troops to remain through the end of 2015.
President Ghani's address highlighted the extraordinary progress that Afghan women have made since 2001 when, under a system of gender apartheid, women and girls were not allowed to attend school, hold a job, receive medical care, or even go outside of their homes without being covered from head-to-toe and accompanied by a male relative. Ghani pointed out some of the current gains of women such as today some 3 million girls are in primary school; women's maternal mortality rate, although still high, has been dramatically reduced; and some 38 percent of the voters were women, despite threats of violence, in the recent provincial and presidential elections. He pledged "to increase to parity the number of women graduating from high schools and colleges."
Ghani said women's rights were a central foundation block for Afghanistan to recover from some 40 years of war. He said women's rights were not only a "matter of rights, important though they are. It is a matter of national necessity," he said. "No country in the modern world can be self-reliant with half of its population locked away, uneducated and unable to contribute its energy, creativity, and drive to national development."