WASHINGTON – Lack of funding and security,health problems and social traditions are the main challenges facing Afghan women three years after the United States intervened to overthrow the Taliban government.
Four Afghan women's rights defenders discussed the difficulties and problems of women in Afghanistan Wednesday at the National Press Club. They asked the American government to fulfill its promises to Afghan women.
Ritu Sharma,co-founder and executive director of the Women’s Edge Coalition,talked about the needs and problems of Afghan women. She said the lack of security and weak funding mean “women's lives are in danger.”
Sharma said the United States could have done better by providing resources and leadership to get security on the ground. “No security,no success,” she said. Sharma drew a picture life,saying,”Violence is the order of the day.”
All four panelists said lack of funding was a big issue. About 3 percent of U.S. assistance was dedicated to women,and just 0.02 percent of U.S. funds went to international non-governmental organizations focused on helping women in Afghanistan,Sharma said,adding,”It’s a fraction.”
There are reports of women and girls being subjected to “sexual violence,rape,beating,kidnapping and other forms of intimidation,” Sharma said.
Kathryn Bolles,a child survival specialist from Save the Children,which has operated in Afghanistan for 20 years,said health conditions in Afghanistan are among the worst in the world.
“When mothers survive and thrive,their children survive and thrive,” Bolles said. “One child out of every four dies before his or her fifth birthday.”
According to World Bank statistics from 2001,121 children per 1,000 die before their fifth birthdays in the world's poorest countries,and only seven per 1,000 die before age 5 in the richest countries.
Bolles quoted the World Health Organization as saying the lifetime risk of death from pregnancy-related causes is 1 in 6 in Afghanistan. In neighboring Pakistan,the rate is 1 in 31,and in the United States,it is 1 in 2,500.
In a recent Save the Children survey,Bolles said,”Only 4 percent of children in the rural northern region had been vaccinated against the five most common child illness.”
It is difficult to make comparisons among countries because of the number of shots children need,but Bolles' office provided statistics about children receiving measles vaccine. In Afghanistan,it is 44 percent. In Pakistan it is 57 percent,and in the United States it is 91 percent.
Security risks keep children from going to school,especially in areas where schools are far apart and children have to travel for a long time. “We need to make sure that those children not only go to school,but stay in school,” Bolles said.
In a country where 90 percent of the women are illiterate,education is a priority. The good news is that women in Afghanistan are back to work in such fields as police and TV broadcasting,and women now have the right to vote,said Malaly Volpi,executive director of the Policy Council on Afghan Women.
“Our mission is to educate women in Afghanistan,” she said. “We are just teaching them how to select a candidate and how to put the paper in the box.”
But social traditions are often a wall blocking this right. Nearly 90 percent of women voters in Afghanistan said that they will have to get permission to vote from their husbands,who will also tell them who to vote for,Volpi said.
Volpi said Americans don’t have the will to help Afghanistan. “We know,it’s not democracy or freedom,it’s [al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Ladin,that’s why they are there.”
She used a ratio of the number of U.S. soldiers to citizens to make her point: “It’s 1-to-61 in Iraq,1-to-50 in Bosnia,but in my country it’s 1-to-600.”
Volpi said she is unhappy with the U.S. government and its financial policy in Afghanistan. “This government can move money when they want to move money,” she said.
T. Kumar,advocacy director for Asia and Pacific for Amnesty International USA,said that the United States did not do enough in Afghanistan.
“The best thing after 9/11,no more Taliban,” he said,and as a result of this,people and women in particular became free,but “ the only good thing about Taliban was security.”
Americans “gave hope to Afghan women,” Kumar said. But it was a “false hope – they betrayed Afghan women.”
He also criticized President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan judiciary. “The judiciary system is entirely against women,” Kumar said.
The four panelists asked the international community to send more peacekeepers and help fund the non-profit groups working in Afghanistan. “We need your will,my friends,” Volpi said.