How to Secure the Gains Afghan Women Have Made

   •    October 31, 2013

The women of Afghanistan today aren’t the same women of 2001. They’ve expanded their access to health care, education, justice, and political power. As Inclusive Security Action’s Michelle Barsa noted Tuesday in a congressional hearing, “Afghan women weren’t handed progress; they fought for it.”

As we approach the 2014 deadline for the security transition, organizations like ours that have worked in Afghanistan over the past decade share concerns about the erosion of gains that Afghan women have made.

Michelle testified Tuesday that the US and the international community must prioritize women’s leadership in the institutions mandated to protect those gains, such as the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The hearing, convened by Chairman Martha Roby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Niki Tsongas (D-MA), was before the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Read Michelle’s testimony here [PDF] or watch it below:

“The presence—or absence—of women in the ANSF has implications in areas the U.S. has deemed top priorities, including democracy promotion, countering terrorism, and provision of security to the Afghan people with minimal or no assistance from coalition forces,” said Michelle. She cites the following examples:

  • Without female security personnel to staff elections, Afghan women will not be allowed to vote.
  • Last year in Afghanistan, on at least 13 recorded instances, male insurgents dressed as women entered restricted areas from which they’ve launched attacks. There were no female body searchers to stop them.
  • Sexual and gender-based violence is endemic in Afghanistan: as many as 87 percent of Afghan women experience some form of domestic abuse or forced marriage. Cultural norms prohibit or limit communication between unrelated men and women including between a woman experiencing abuse and a male police officer.

Afghan women leaders in both government and civil society have developed recommendations [PDF] for the US and international partners to not only enhance women’s security but to strengthen the transition process. As Inclusive Security’s Women Waging Peace Network member Orzala Ashraf Nemat said, “Security for women is defined in a much broader sense than just the absence of an ongoing war. It means feeling safe when accessing the public sphere, whether it is a school, a public office job, a police station, or a court. Afghan women continue their struggle to ensure security is provided, but it is crucial to have the continued and long-term support of the international community to maintain and further reform the ongoing programs in the best and most effective way possible.”

Prominent political and human rights leaders in the US and Afghanistan launched a coalition called The Alliance in Support of the Afghan People. ASAP is comprised of Afghan civil society members, Honorary Co-Chairs Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Ambassador Melanne Verveer, former senior U.S. officials Stephen Hadley and John Podesta, and many others, including Michelle Barsa. This diverse group is working to preserve and protect gains made by the Afghan people since 2001.

As we join with these leaders in the national security community, we urge the US and its partners to make the direct participation of women in the ANSF a top priority—one that is understood as core to the mandate to ensure security for the Afghan people.

For more information on ASAP, visit, like the Facebook page, or follow the coalition on Twitter at @AfghanAlliance.

Allison Peters is a policy adviser at Inclusive Security Action, where she shapes the organization’s policy strategies and outreach initiatives, with a particular focus on the US Congress.

Inclusive Security Action partners with The Institute for Inclusive Security to increase the participation of all stakeholders—particularly women—in preventing, resolving, and rebuilding after deadly conflict.

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