Author: 

Torunn Wimpelmann

Donors, Western publics and Afghan activists and their local allies should recognize that external support cannot in any way compensate for local political organization. Afghan women can only secure gender equality for the long run if they become a political force to be reckoned with domestically.

Leaving Them to It? Women’s Rights in Transitioning AfghanistanPhoto: Daniel Wilkinson (US Department of State) (US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan) / Wikimedia Commons.

Summary

  • Donor support for women’s rights in Afghanistan since 2001 has produced many gains, principally in access to education, health, formal employment and political participation, alongside a certain momentum in legal protection against family violence and abuse. Yet it has also led to claims that aid programmes have failed to deal with deeper issues and contributed to an ‘NGO-ized’ women’s movement.
     
  • Donors, Western publics and Afghan activists and their local allies should recognize that external support cannot in any way compensate for local political organization. Afghan women can only secure gender equality for the long run if they become a political force to be reckoned with domestically – whether as constituencies in elections or in other ways.
     
  • For Western governments, political capital is best spent on preventing setbacks and on attempts to contribute to an overall political landscape where there is room for democratic organization, debate and oversight. Donors should avoid attempts at fast-tracking gender equality through elaborate technocratic instruments, but at the same time also refrain from giving credence to notions that gender inequality is somehow inherent in Afghan culture.
     
  • In this critical transition year, it is crucial that smaller organizations and actors are not cut off from funding, since they often take a more activist and radical stance than larger ones with a greater turnover capacity.