“Australia must use its strong diplomatic, advisory and aid role in Afghanistan to focus on protecting and empowering women and girls,” says Amnesty International.
The call comes after this week’s ceremony to mark the end of Australia’s military mission in the country in which Prime Minister promised that “Australia will not walk away from Afghanistan” and cited Australia’s contribution to maternal health, education and infrastructure in Uruzgan province.
According to the humanitarian organisation, Afghan women have voiced their fears that the international community will turn its attention away from the social problems still plaguing the Afghan people, particularly the attacks on womens’ and girls’ rights, as the foreign military forces begin to exit the country.
“The Prime Minister’s comments show Australia has an opportunity to positively influence Afghanistan during 2014 and beyond,” said Ming Yu, Amnesty International Australia’s spokesperson on Afghan women’s rights.
“With Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan coming to an end, Australia should take on the mantle of champion of human rights.”
Yu believes that as a member of the UN Security Council; as one of the only countries to have increased aid to Afghanistan and through retaining an advisory role in the country, Australia must “seize every opportunity to strengthen the rights of Afghan women and girls, and the protection of civilians.”
The United Nations has also reported a rise in civilian casualties in Afghanistan, including a sharp increase in the numbers of women and girls killed and injured – as well as increasing brutal attacks on women’s rights advocates. For this reason, Australia, more than ever, “must urge for the protection of Afghan women’s rights,” said Ming Yu.
“From fully implementing the 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law, to providing gender-sensitive training to police and military personnel, there is just so much more that can be done for the women and girls of Afghanistan.”
But, Amnesty warns that Australia along with the international community must remain steadfast to their commitment to the rights of women and girls, so that such advances are not wound backwards under the new power-sharing arrangements.
“In a post-2014 Afghanistan, women’s rights will only be protected if strong women are able to advocate for them, right now. That’s why it’s so important that Afghan women themselves have a seat at the negotiating table, as part of the peace and reconciliation process between the Afghan Government and the Taliban,” a statement from the organisation read.
“Women in Afghanistan and their supporters have worked tirelessly to improve the situation for girls and women. It is critical that Australia now secure these hard-won gains,” they added.
“Australia’s priority now must be to support the many determined, committed and brave Afghan women who risk their lives, everyday, to protect the rights of their countrywomen, and of the next generation of Afghan girls.”