Skip to main content

Don't abandon the women of Afghanistan

By Paula J. Dobriansky and Melanne S. Verveer, Special to CNN
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Wed October 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paula Dobriansky, Melanne Verveer: Afghanistan vote must preserve gains by women
  • They say post-Taliban women's rights have grown, but recent violence has targeted them
  • They say gender equality and education for women is crucial to nation's economic growth
  • Writers: Future support for country's government must be tied to defense of equal rights

Editor's note: Paula J. Dobriansky is former U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs. Melanne S. Verveer is former ambassador-at-large for global women's issues.

(CNN) -- Afghanistan's presidential election season is underway. In a sign of genuine political progress, the government has begun accepting nominations for candidates to succeed President Hamid Karzai. This process started just weeks after the nation's Assembly passed legislation providing a legal framework for the presidential, provincial council and parliamentary elections.

Nothing is more important for Afghanistan than building on the liberalizing achievements of the past decade and preventing a slide back toward repression.

This is why it is crucial to retain and expand the hard-won rights of Afghan women. Gender equality isn't just a matter of moral fairness -- it's essential to the country's economic and political health and to ensuring that the nation has a secure, peaceful and stable future.

Paula Dobriansky
Paula Dobriansky
Melanne Verveer
Melanne Verveer

Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghan women's rights have expanded significantly. The country's current constitution affords equal protection to men and women, guaranteeing women the right to education, political participation and economic opportunity. Afghan women are now employed at jobs ranging from doctor to police officer -- unthinkable under the Taliban. An Oxfam report found that school enrollment among girls has increased from roughly 5,000 to 2.4 million.

These are encouraging developments. But there is so much more progress to be made. Afghan women are still the targets of institutional discrimination and gender-based violence.

Here in the last half of 2013, two consecutive Ministry of Women's Affairs chiefs were assassinated. In August, female parliamentarian Fariba Ahmadi Kakar was kidnapped by Taliban militants. A few days later, the vehicle envoy of female Sen. Roh Gul Khairzad was ambushed, leading to the death of her 8-year-old daughter.

And in mid-September, Afghanistan's top female police officer was shot as she left her home.

This violence is organized. Sima Samar, head of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan, has noted that by targeting high-profile women, the Taliban seeks to "limit the active presence and activities of women in their society."

Hero soldier receives Medal of Honor
Another 'insider' attack in Afghanistan?
Taliban claim U.S. consulate attack

Indeed, a new United Nations report finds that in the first six months of 2013, the deaths of women and children jumped 38 compared to the same period last year.

American forces will be drawn down next year. It's absolutely imperative that their exit not bring on a backslide. The country's government must be expected to keep its commitments to women and girls.

Gender equality is about affirming human dignity, and it starts with improving access to education.

The statistics tell the story. Mortality rates for children younger than 5 are 50% lower for mothers who have attended primary school. Educated women are less likely to die during childbirth and more likely to send their own children to school. These children then grow up to be the educated young citizens essential to sustained economic growth.

These facts shouldn't be surprising. Education is a basic human right and its impact is transformative in any society. Educated women are major contributors to Afghanistan's economy. Each additional year of primary school improves a woman's earning potential by 10% to 20%.

Women also provide an indispensable voice in political institutions. Here in the United States, after gaining the right to vote, women drew attention to underappreciated issues such as maternal health and child care, resulting in policy shifts that significantly reduced child mortality rates.

Given the enormous challenges that Afghanistan faces, the country cannot afford to regress back to a system in which some of its brightest minds are left out of the political process or any part of society.

Afghanistan's elections and the impending drawdown of American troops mark a new era in the country's development.

The international community must work to ensure that women's gains in recent years are protected and that Afghan women continue to make political and economic progress. Any future support for the country's government must be explicitly tied to continued defense of equal rights and continued progress of female citizens.

For peace and prosperity, we must not abandon the women of Afghanistan.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paula J. Dobriansky and Melanne S. Verveer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT