Women must also be represented in the government. As Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador at large for global women's issues, noted last summer, speaking of female politicians in Afghanistan, "There is only one minister in the cabinet, and she is powerless. There is a low percentage of women in the civil service. There is only one female governor, in Bamiyan." Obama must insist on important changes for women before we leave and make subsequent aid contingent upon maintenance of a strong presence for women in the Afghan government.
Better yet, the coalition needs to support "regime change" through the building of democratic institutions that will groom a moderate, educated middle class of young women and men to eventually take over. Over two-thirds of the Afghan population is under the age of 25, which is either a real opportunity for social change -- if they are educated and given a chance to shape their society in a progressive way -- or a major obstacle, if they find themselves without jobs, unable to marry, and burdened with retrograde attitudes of what it means to be male and female.
We must hold Afghanistan responsible for its treaty obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. Afghanistan signed CEDAW without reservations (the United States interestingly, has not), and that means that it has committed to passing whatever legislation is necessary to implement the wide-ranging principles of gender equality enshrined in that treaty. This includes taking measures to ensure that women enjoy the same basic human rights and fundamental freedoms as men, having in place legal and judicial procedures to protect the rights of women, taking measures to eliminate sexist discrimination, and lastly, submitting national reports every four years to a U.N. advisory group of international experts, the CEDAW Committee, to ensure transparency on what measures the country has taken to implement the treaty's provisions.
Unanimously adopted in 2000, UNSC 1325 marked the first time the Security Council recognized the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and stressed the importance of their equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.
Needless to say, women do not currently enjoy the same fundamental freedoms as men, and indeed, with the passing of the Shiite family law, many are worse off than they were before.
To change this, the coalition needs to stay in Afghanistan. Withdrawing at this critical juncture would doom Afghanistan and the entire region to instability and effectively consign one half of the population to premature death and an existence not fit for animals.
We are creating a shameful American tradition of leaving women no better off (Afghanistan) -- or even much worse off (Iraq) -- than before U.S. troops intervened. On the basis of America's track record, women around the world should have no faith that U.S. soldiers will improve their security. Despite Clinton's remarks on the link between gender equality and security, on the ground Americans act as if women's well-being, in the end, is not more than peripherally related to the issue of peace. As we have seen, this view could not be more wrong. Verveer's benchmarks concerning Afghanistan are the right ones: "Progress in Afghanistan must be measured not just in military terms, but also in terms of social, political, and economic participation of women in rebuilding Afghanistan and in the safeguarding of their human rights."
American women are right to ask why we are sending their sons and daughters to fight and die so that Afghan women can continue to be treated like an inferior subspecies of humanity. When you break faith with Afghan women, you break faith with American women. You also break faith with your reasons for being there in the first place.