Since my first journey to Afghanistan in 2002, six months after the Taliban were driven from power; my life has been inextricably changed. I went originally for two weeks, working as a freelance reporter for ABC News in New York, and stayed for nearly three years, working for ABC and then as television correspondent and Kabul Bureau Chief for Fox News Channel. I blossomed personally and professionally as the journey and direction of my life unfolded while I lived and worked in Kabul, the birthplace of my father. Many positive steps have been taken since then for the Afghan people, especially for Afghan women. However, so much more needs to be done for a nation scarred by nearly 30 years of war, invasion, civil strife, immeasurable poverty, over one million people killed during the Soviet Occupation, oppression and terror under the Taliban regime, and ongoing conflict to help restore the Afghan people to a place of peace, security and economic sustenance. This will take years, even decades to achieve.Afghan Women:
Over the last few years, Afghan women have been battling increasing uncertainty, juggling newly-found freedoms with traditional responsibilities at home, and struggling with the ghosts of their country’s harrowing past and its ongoing conflicts.
As a signatory of the UN General Assembly’s 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Afghanistan is required to solicit and respect women’s views on the country’s laws, policies and practices. Women’s rights are also guaranteed in the 2004 Afghan constitution. Yet due to the ongoing cultural restrictions against women’s participation in public life, the weak state of civil society, and the increasing conflict, it is very difficult to obtain an accurate portrayal of the challenges they face.
Dramatic efforts have been made to encourage women’s participation in civil society, media, and politics. Yet this does not accurately reflect the lives of the vast majority of women, especially in the rural areas. They still suffer one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, epidemic levels of illiteracy and unemployment, and human rights violations, including domestic violence, underage marriage, and rape.
It is difficult to predict the future of a nation scarred by ongoing conflict. It is equally difficult to predict the future of women who face countless daily battles to survive. Yet all of these women serve as models, playing public roles that demand great personal courage. What they show us, day by day, is that whatever their challenges, Afghan women’s voices are, more than ever, on the rise.The State of Afghan Media:
Ever since the Taliban regime was driven from power in 2001, there has been dynamic growth in Afghan media, which are emerging with great energy and dynamic force. Print, radio, television and internet are thriving despite attempts to impose some restrictions, which are viewed by many as a threat to freedom of the press guaranteed under the Afghan constitution. Media play a key role in educating and empowering a public, especially in the knowledge and establishment of their human rights.
A big part of empowering women lies in ensuring that they have the means through the mass media to express their own opinions about inequalities on their own behalf. Media continue to help provide women with a much needed platform of expression in an unequal social landscape. From 1992 until late 2001, women were not allowed on television or represented in any form of media. They were considered non-citizens without any rights or power. It is hardly a perfect situation, but today women are once again are being seen, heard and read about in the media. It is estimated that more than 1,000 women are working today throughout Afghanistan as journalists for radio, television or print publications.
But these strides forward are under increasing threat from anti-democratic elements who have once again claimed a foothold in the Afghan parliament and government, and from the growing insecurity linked to Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents. The increasing politicization of the media sector is another growing threat, as politicians and parliamentarians with little understanding of freedom of the press, not to mention warlords and the Taliban, wield ownership and control over an increasing number of media operations, and disseminate blatant propaganda.
Twelve journalists have been killed over the past four years, including two women journalists. Although it is not always easy to determine the exact cause of their deaths, the attacks deal a consistent and chilling blow to the media and freedom of expression. Other journalists have been detained, beaten and forced to leave the country to save their lives.
The war-torn country remains a battleground with an uncertain future for journalists, yet the power of media remains strong and is a vital part of the young Afghan democracy, struggling to take hold and flourish. It plays an integral role in helping to empower Afghan women by providing a much needed platform for the expression of their views, hopes and concerns.Moving Forward:
Without sustainable peace, security, economic opportunities, access to healthcare and education, disturbing realities associated with poverty, patriarchal and archaic norms, domestic violence and child marriage, will be difficult to reverse down the road.
At this stage, it is of great importance to support the young and fragile democratic process in Afghanistan; otherwise this poor, war-torn nation may stumble back into “failed state” status.
Continued strides towards improving maternal and infant health, girls’ education, women’s literacy rates, the number of female teachers, women’s access to the workforce and to credit, and women’s access to governance and justice remain essential. Actively working to improve the rights of Afghan women is not idealistic; it is also pragmatic. Improving the situation of women in Afghanistan is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure sustainable development and progress. Lasting peace cannot come without the participation and representation of Afghan women in its developing society.
This is a historic time of transformation for Afghanistan, marked by challenge, excitement and ongoing conflict as this country struggles to find its new voice and identity in the twenty-first century. This struggle cannot be won in an environment of fear, intimidation, violence and lack of opportunity.
To succeed in all areas, we need to remain engaged, fight extremism and intolerance on every front and rely on a long-term strategy that can make a difference. The international community’s continued role is of the utmost necessity. Today, more than ever before, Afghan women want a renewed commitment from the international community to women’s rights in Afghanistan, the commitment that we collectively made in 2001.
Afghanistan has much work ahead and hopefully with the continued support of the international community this young and fragile democracy will flourish so the Afghan people can become truly self-sufficient, living in peace, security and with hope for their future. Working to ensure that Afghan women play an equal role in Afghanistan’s development is not just the necessary thing to do; it is still the right thing to do.
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Artists for Afghanistan Foundation