Open Letter of Afghan Women to the Parlamentarians of Germany

A group of Afghan women activists from politics, media and civil society in Afghanistan met in the office of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation in Kabul. Now they address an open letter to the Members of Parliament.

To the Parliamentarians of the Federal Republic of Germany

Respected Parliamentarians,
We, a focus group of Afghan women activists from politics, media and civil society in Afghanistan, convey to you our best regards. We are aware of the fact that these days you will be debating whether and how to continue the deployment of German troops within the framework of the ISAF mandate in Afghanistan. This is an important and difficult decision, we assume, particularly because many of you will not have had the chance to come and see developments in Afghanistan with your own eyes. Therefore we have gathered at the Kabul office of Heinrich Boell Stiftung (HBS) for assessing  the current situation in Afghanistan, particularly the situation of women – and the role the continuation of the engagement of the international community and particularly the continuation of the mandate of the German troops plays. The views expressed here are to the best of our knowledge and based on our true belief in the given recommendations. We hope that our explanations will help you to come to a decision.

Knowing that Germany has a long history of friendship with Afghans and that during hard times Germany has helped Afghanistan in form of providing of health services, education, water, power, capacity building and many other fields we would like to mention the following aspects. After the fall of Taliban, it was Germany who with the Bonn Conference in 2001 for the first time arranged an international conference on the future of Afghanistan which was the foundation stone of a new democratic Afghanistan.

After considering the current situation of Afghanistan and the engagement of the international community, we propose the following issues to be taken into consideration for future policy regarding Afghanistan:

  1. Poverty is one of the main problems of Afghanistan which lead to further problems. Women are particularly affected and suffering from poverty both inside and outside homes.
  2. The potential of mining (oil, gas, mineral, metals, precious and semi precious stones), small and big dams, solar energy and many more has not been properly assessed. There is urgent need for investment in local markets which will automatically build capacities to work. Hardly twenty percent of the young educated class can be employed whereas the rest of the young Afghan generation can be attracted by militants. This is a waste of potential. More income-generating projects should be considered instead of merely focusing on aid. If there would be basic producing units, employment opportunities in this sector and investments for self-sustainable structures then people would be more supportive of state institutions.
  3. Achievements in the field of women rights are both associated with the efforts of international community and the courageous Afghan women. It was the international community who provided opportunities for the women empowerment and it were the Afghan women themselves who made use of the opportunities and took an active role for their empowerment. Women have the freedom of speech and equality of rights has been encouraged. Afghan women have participated in parliamentary, provincial and presidential elections, girls are attending schools and girls and women can ever more participate in social activities of society - which is novel in Afghan history.
  4. Certain milestones in form of laws have passed by the Afghan Parliament. Yet, non-implementation of laws is one of the main reasons that women rights could not materialize.  Provision of justice has been overall weak and women have comparatively suffered more than men.
  5. The role of the international community has been positive in empowerment of women but certain opportunistic people have hijacked the issue of women for getting personal gains. Funds allocated for women empowerment have not been expensed properly. The ones responsible for that should be identified and prosecuted accordingly.
  6. Unfortunately certain very vocal personalities are preferred by the international community whereas others are ignored. Such a strategy has negative results as only one sided views are heard which cannot represent all Afghans. Women rights are often dealt with rather in terms of slogans whereas its practical implementation has been undermined. A lot of money has been embezzled under the pretext of advancing  women’s rights and development. At the same time, extremist perceptions and the general approach of Afghan society towards women have not been changed much in eight years and it will not change in the near future. Only a long term commitment will create an opportunity for that.
  7. The intervention of international community was often project based – usually projects ranging from six to nine months – instead of being process based. That is why it is lacking sustainability. It will be wise that weaknesses of the international engagement should be indentified and strict measures should be taken accordingly. But it will also be wise to pay respect to what has been accomplished and to listen to those activists who through their engagement have shown that goals can be achieved.
  8. Security is one of the other main problems of Afghanistan which has reduced the role of women in society. Some of the women who were active for women empowerment just after the fall of Taliban are now restricted at their homes mainly because of insecurity.Training and capacity building of Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army (ANA) should be conducted. People are not happy with the Afghan police in its current form because it is weak and often people are employed who themselves have a criminal background. Police should be trained enough during years rather than months and then the authority should be delegated to them.
  9. Considering the past friendship of Germany, Afghans have always welcomed them, much more so than US troops who have a mostly negative image among people. None of the activities of Germany have ever been criticized. German military has a good reputation in keeping security in Northern Afghanistan and the same is the case with the non-military operations and the civil engagement of Germany where more and more people are benefitting from the projects. Troops should be deployed on borders and remote areas. Presence and support of international community is compulsory in the field of security, economy and politics.
  10. A withdrawal of German troops will be a great setback for all the developments that took place. It will be very hard to implement the developmental activities of Germany. Withdrawal from any area in Afghanistan by the international community will leave gaps that will immediately be filled by Taliban. The news and public discussion about quick withdrawal of the international community have negative repercussions in Afghanistan because it casts a shadow of doubt about their sincere commitment to democracy and freedom in Afghanistan. After all, immediate withdrawal is not a solution to Afghanistan: In case of a withdrawal without a proper handing over of power to new and reliable Afghan structures, Afghanistan has the potential to become a threat for the region and in consequence to the whole globe.

We, the Afghan women, have faced many violations and in no way we want the future generation to suffer from the same mishaps – from violence, insecurity, repression or exile. Therefore we ask for and encourage long term commitment of the international community and especially of the Federal Republic of Germany. Your contribution, militarily and civilian, is essential to give us the chance for a peaceful and democratic future.

We remain with the best regards and best wishes to the German people and to you as its representatives.

We, all the members of the focus group discussion, put our hands as testimony to the above:

1. Ms. Shah Gul Rezai, Member Parliament of Islamic Republic of the Afghanistan
2. Sediqa Nawrozian, Gender Training Officer,  Afghan Civil Society Forum Organization (ACSFo)
3. Fahima Kakar, Director, Women Assistance Association (WAA)
4. Jamila Mujahed,  Director, Voice of Afghan Women Radio
5. Neelofar Qadiri,  Program Manager, Women and Children Legal Research Foundation (WCLRF)
6. Jamila Omar,  Director, Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC)
7. Gulalai Habib, Editor in Chief, Newspaper Dunya-E-Zan Publication
8. Shafiqa Habibi, Director, New Afghanistan Women Association
9. Suraya Parlika, Director, All Afghan Women Union (AAWU)