Our guest blogger is Jennifer Addison, national security team intern at the Center for American Progress.Yesterday, the Afghan government announced the release of a woman serving a 12-year jail sentence for adultery after reporting that her cousin had raped her. Freedom comes with a price — the pardon came only after the woman agreed to marry her attacker. What initially seemed like a victory for women’s progress in Afghanistan actually became a reminder of the difficulties of making change in a society deeply rooted in tradition and custom.
The European Union’s ambassador and special representative to Afghanistan, Vygaudas Usackas, gave a statement responding to this event saying:
USACKAS: Her case has served to highlight the plight of Afghan women, who 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime often continue to suffer in unimaginable conditions, deprived of even the most basic human rights.
As Afghanistan continues to inch forward out of the Taliban era and toward a new state, this event should remind us that although women have made considerable progress they still have the much to gain and lose in the changes coming to Afghanistan.
The continuing difficulties for women in Afghanistan are parallel to the obstacles that confront women worldwide — lack of equal economic or educational opportunity for example. Other problems are unique in their severity, such as gender violence and gender inequality, as a result of the conservative social structure in Afghanistan. A study from the Thomas-Reuters foundation put Afghanistan at the top of the list for the worst place for women.
As the country continues to evolve, gender activists and women’s groups in Afghanistan have expressed concern that women will be left behind as the country moves forward. As Samira Hamidi from the Afghan Women’s Network said:
“We have not been approached by the government — they never do. The belief is that women are not important,” she said, describing a mind-set that she said “has not been changed in the past eight years.”
Human rights groups, women’s rights groups, and other organizations continue to make significant efforts to raise the status of women in Afghanistan but the question of how to bring about change in a society severely entrenched with conservative values and custom remains. Additionally, the advancements that have been made risk being reverted so the challenge is to maintain what developments have been made while pushing to achieve new ones.