Feminists are Fighting for Afghan Women on Capitol Hill

Feminist advocates last week met with leading lawmakers on Capitol Hill to amplify calls for an equitable peace process in Afghanistan being made by women on the ground.

Photo (L-R): Makhfi Azizi, Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF); Dee Martin, FMF Board Member; Jennifer Jackman, Salem State University professor; Eleanor Smeal, FMF president; Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney; Dr. Sima Samar, Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; Marzia Nawrozi, FMF.

“Under Taliban rule, Afghan women suffered under crushing oppression and are now speaking up to demand a seat at the table,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said in a statement after meeting with a delegation led by Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), “and they should have one.”

Maloney also promised to “urge the State Department and the Trump Administration to keep women’s equality and human rights at the forefront during these negotiations” and agreed that representation for Afghan women and government officials is “a necessary component in making sure that the progress that Afghan women have made in recent years can continue.”

Maloney was one of many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who met on Tuesday with FMF President Eleanor Smeal and Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls Associates Marzia Nawrozi and Makhfi Azizi; Dr. Sima Samar, Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; and feminist scholar Jennifer Jackman to discuss the urgency of including Afghan women and the Afghan government in the negotiations.

“Rep. Maloney has been an advocate of Afghan women for decades and has always been committed to their inclusion in building a more peaceful, more equal Afghanistan,” Azizi told Ms. “We are greatly appreciative that Rep. Maloney is calling on Sec. Pompeo to include Afghan women leaders in the U.S.-Taliban peace talks and demanding greater transparency concerning the negotiations.” (FMF is calling for women’s inclusion in the peace talks with a petition campaign.)

Women in Afghanistan have made massive gains in recent years, including more female representation in Parliament, but their progress is fragile. Advocates fear that the exclusion of both women and Afghan government officials from ongoing peace talks, as well as the likely withdrawal of American troops from the region, could threaten their progress.

But the call for an equitable peace process isn’t just about optics or principle. Research has found that the presence of women in peace talks improves the chances of lasting success for the agreements they reach.

“Our delegation made it clear that turning over control to the Taliban would have devastating consequences for Afghan women, who have fought for over 20 years to recover from the Taliban’s draconian rule and advance opportunities for women and girls,” Smeal recounted to activists in an email. “Afghan women fear losing their hard-won rights, having seen the Taliban continue to commit brutal acts of violence and enforce their edicts in the few parts of the country they still control.”

Smeal ended the note with a powerful declaration: “We cannot abandon Afghan women.”


Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.