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

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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform