Horia Mosadiq: Help Afghan women – and win the debate over the war

The UK government should speak out against the abuse of human rights

Share
Related Topics

Why are 42 nations in Afghanistan and why has the UK lost over 200 of its armed personnel there? This apparently deadly question is rolling around the corridors of power and beyond like a grenade with its pin pulled out.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth says this is a war to "protect our national security." But the current Western approach seems to be counterproductive, both militarily and in terms of support from the Afghan people.

Many Afghans tell Amnesty that they support the presence of international troops as long as they're there to help protect their human rights and improve their lives. The UK government should take this seriously, incorporating human rights benchmarks into its Afghanistan strategy.

Doing so will provide desperately needed assistance to millions of Afghans, particularly women, who still suffer terrible human rights abuses. It will also assist in the military effort and the job of protecting the UK's national security.

Here's a simple change that would help: instead of a meaningless focus on how many Taliban are killed or how many villages are cleared, international forces should measure their success by clear benchmarks in terms of how they've improved human rights. Are more women in Helmand able to get healthcare? Are more children able to attend school?

This shift could improve the lives of millions of Afghans and it could help the UK government explain why so many British troops are serving (and suffering casualties).

The importance of human rights to the international effort in Afghanistan has been lost. In 2001 Tony Blair laid out reasons why "inaction" over Afghanistan was not an option. The Taliban's depredations of human rights, and particularly women, were to the fore. Women, said Mr Blair, "are treated in a way almost too revolting to be credible", explaining how they had been hounded out of education and confined as near-prisoners in their own homes.

The former prime minister's impassioned plea for the women of Afghanistan was a clarion call taken up around the world. The UK government and its allies may steer clear of the issue now, but helping to end the extreme repression of Afghan women was very much on the agenda at the mission's outset.

So what has changed? Not enough. With the removal of the worst of the Taliban's restrictions, conditions for women improved. Millions of girls were able to attend school again, some returned to work and the public arena (including as MPs) and new legislation was approved to improve the legal status of women.

Many of these fragile changes have shattered in the south and east of the country as the Taliban and other anti-government groups have returned, once again destroying schools and health clinics and harassing women.

Despite legislation forbidding underage marriage, more than half of all Afghan girls are married before they're 16. Poor families in rural areas still view girls largely as commodities to be bartered into marriages.

Afghan women still have very little recourse to justice and are discriminated against in both the formal and informal justice systems. The recent passage of a highly discriminatory law concerning Shi'a women households speaks volumes for President Karzai's failure to secure women's rights.

Whoever wins on Thursday and whatever international military presence remains in the country in the coming years, the brute fact is that abuses against the Afghan population – not least women – show little sign of abating.

This is unacceptable. The UK government should have the courage of its apparent human rights convictions and speak out about issues like the subjugation of Afghan women even as its armed forces pursue their "security" agenda in Helmand. If No 10 needs an excuse, it can cite UN resolutions on involving women in countries ravaged by conflict. But should it need an excuse?



Horia Mosadiq is an Afghan researcher for Amnesty International

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'