Equal Rights of Women in Afghanistan Under Continuing Threat

March 31, 2009

If a new law passed by Afghanistan's Parliament, and supported by its President (Hamid Karzai), is anything like the critics claim, then it is a sad day for women in Afghanistan. The document has not been published, but those who have read it –such as critical members of Parliament, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women –say that it will roll back women's rights to a state worse than under the Taliban. This should not be tolerated by the world agencies and governments that are supporting post-Taliban Afghanistan. Our governments and agencies must speak out against this deplorable law.

Cultural relativism is not without merit and meaning –but there should be nothing relative about the necessity of establishing equal rights for women and men. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes it quite plain that the rights of women transcend borders and cultures:

"Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom..."

Furthermore, Afghanistan's own constitution proclaims that "[t]he citizens of Afghanistan – whether man or woman – have equal rights and duties before the law."

At a time when the United States government in particular is revamping its Afghanistan strategy, including increases in the number of troops stationed in harm's way, it is increasingly important that the besieged women of that country (and increasingly Pakistan as well) not be "thrown under the bus" for expediency's sake.

Many in the U.S. have tenuously supported the Afghan war because of the terrible oppression of women in the prior regime. War is a terrible thing, not to be undertaken lightly, and not to be undertaken simply out of fear for one's own future safety. The war in Afghanistan has been seen as just because it gave back to women and girls opportunities for schooling, for lowering the veil, for entering public life –it gave them some measure of freedom and hope for more to come.

Until women are allowed their rightful place at the table, until they enjoy the rights and freedoms enjoyed by men, I fear that warfare in Afghanistan (with or without the U.S.) will be without end.