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Why U.S. Can't Deliver Women's Rights to Afghanistan

April 2, 2013 in Economics

By Malou Innocent

Malou Innocent

During his recent unannounced visit to Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with prominent female entrepreneurs and the captain of the women’s soccer team to discuss the hard-won progress of Afghan women and their uncertain future. Like his predecessor, Secretary Kerry has admirably pledged to prioritize women’s rights in his foreign policy agenda. But the underpinnings of this pledge — the entrenchment of women’s rights across Afghanistan — are beyond the ability of the United States to uphold. It is time to stop making promises we cannot keep.

If the past 12 years in Afghanistan (and Iraq) has taught us anything, it’s that we are not very good at spreading Western-style, Jeffersonian democracy — and all the attendant rights — to foreign cultures. In the end, our military and diplomacy cannot transform deep-rooted societal norms. The future of Afghan women deserves U.S. support, but not a false promise tied to the open-ended presence of U.S. troops.

Undoubtedly, since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, the quality of life for many Afghan women has undergone extraordinary transformations. But the progress may be illusionary. As Reuter’s senior correspondent in Afghanistan Amie Ferris-Rotman argued in Foreign Policy last month, President Hamid Karzai has been “increasingly ambivalent on women’s rights,” and the local government has failed to motivate Afghan society at large to adopt new habits to accept gender equality.

The future of Afghan women deserves U.S. support, but not a false promise tied to the open-ended presence of U.S. troops.”

Misogynistic warlords and conservative Afghan traditionalists still wield considerable influence over traditions and customs that govern property rights, marriage and divorce, inheritance, and custody. Despite women’s constitutionally guaranteed rights, fundamentalists in parliament and government ministries continue indigenous cultural prohibitions that discriminate against women.

In addition, women’s rights activists observe that forced marriages involving young girls remain common. Beatings, torture, and other forms of domestic violence against Afghan women persist. Worse, women and girls are often shot, stabbed, or even stoned to death in honor killings when captured for running away from their abusers.

Because Afghan society’s acceptance of women’s social and legal rights has yet to take root organically, from the bottom up, the most viable alternative for changing its long-standing customs and social practices would be top-down with the help of the international community. But as University of California Santa Barbara Assistant Professor Robert …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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