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What Obama's Speech Will Mean for Afghan Women

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
June 22, 2011
Foreign Policy


Women in Afghanistan will be watching particularly closely to what President Barack Obama says this evening about the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan, as well as watching how he says it. A group of Afghan women leaders came to Washington last week on a whirlwind policy talk-a-thon with the State Department, Pentagon, White House and Congressional leaders. On the women's minds: What kind of peace process will emerge in Afghanistan, and what kind of role will women have in an eventual arrangement with the Taliban that once oppressed them so brutally?

The fight is on for women to safeguard their own rights to go to school and to work, and to have their voices heard as part of the process to shape whatever government comes next in their country.

Some Afghan women leaders say they favor peace talks, but they fear that their rights will be up for negotiation in any talks with the Taliban. Winning a seat at the peace table for civil society in general and women in particular is viewed as a bulwark against a wholesale rollback of women's rights, which are now protected under the Afghan Constitution. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged to Afghan women that "we will not abandon you," but women say they are concerned that Clinton is a lone voice on their behalf. Visits to the White House last week helped assuage some of those concerns, since administration officials kept the focus on engagement with Afghanistan after the scheduled 2014 pullout, rather than discussing a rush for the exits between now and then.

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