About the Authors: Elizabeth Timberlake serves as Political Officer on the Afghanistan Desk and covers women's issues and human rights. Saba Ghori serves as South and Central Asia Specialist and Violence Against Women Advisor for the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues, and covers the countries of South and Central Asia, including Afghanistan.
Women are essential to progress and stability in Afghanistan. This is a critical point that is addressed in depth by the U.S. government's revised Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy. This strategy incorporates women into every aspect of our programs and engagement. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 23, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer underscored this, saying "women and girls represent one of the most powerful -- but underused -- forces that we have to advance security, stability, and development in Afghanistan. Ambassador Verveer also stated that "our Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy recognizes women as agents of positive change" and key to "our efforts to strengthen Afghan communities' capacity to withstand the threat posed by extremism. It establishes women's empowerment as critical to unleashing the full economic potential of the Afghan people."
The women's plan focuses on sustaining and expanding critical gains in women's rights by focusing on women's security and peace-building; women's leadership in the public and private sector; women's access to judicial institutions, education, and health services; and women's ability to take advantage of economic opportunities, especially in the agricultural sector. For example, U.S. government programs partner with the Afghan government to expand women's role in animal husbandry and commercial agriculture; thanks to these types of initiatives, chicken egg production is now a sustainable enterprise for a number of Afghan women.
Senator Barbara Boxer expressed concerns about Afghan-led reintegration of the Taliban into Afghanistan society and government and asked for reassurance that the laws designed to protect women would be enforced and that women would have a seat at the table -- whether in the Peace Jirga or in other discussions and deliberations -- in charting the future of Afghanistan. Dr. Sima Samar, Chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and Rachel Reid, Afghan Researcher at Human Rights Watch, also testified before the committee, emphasizing the need to consult with women as this process moves forward.
These voices from the Hill, the NGO community and directly from Afghan women are a reminder that reintegration initiatives must recognize the right of Afghan women to have a voice in policy processes that impact their daily lives. President Obama emphasized in his 2010 State of the Union Address that our policies in Afghanistan reflect our national values and "support the rights of all Afghans -- men and women alike." Safeguarding women's rights, while also ensuring women have a voice in critical discussions about Afghanistan's future, is a top U.S. priority. We will not compromise our values on this issue. Afghanistan cannot prosper if half its citizens are left behind.
Read the full strategy here.