By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 26, 2013 – In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee here April 25, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia vowed to quash discrimination and violence against women and girls in Afghanistan.
David S. Sedney told the House panel that DOD leaders recognize the challenges and successes in mitigating poverty, illiteracy, weak security and poor health that disproportionately affect Afghan women as the projected 2014 drawdown proceeds and security responsibility transfers to Afghan military members and police forces.
“Progress in Afghanistan has been great and greatest for women,” Sedney asserted. “Since 2001, Afghan women's health, education, political participation have all increased enormously.”
But that progress made over the last 11 years rests heavily on the basis of security, Sedney said.
“If the Afghan security forces fail, then the progress of Afghan women will fail as well,” he warned. “Building that security, building the Afghan security forces remains the core mission of the Department of Defense in Afghanistan and will continue.”
In a 2011 poll, the humanitarian organization ActionAid found that 86 percent of 1,000 Afghan women surveyed were concerned that a Taliban-style government could return after the drawdown.
With troop drawdowns of about 33,000 members over the last 19 months and projected additional reductions of some 34,000 by February 2014, Sedney said the Afghan leadership has taken steps to meet human rights and equality challenges.
As the Afghan government takes a greater role in its security, it has enacted laws prohibiting violence against women, ratified the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and put in place bureaucratic structures to implement that, he said.
Over the last eight years, Sedney added, the Department of Defense has invested approximately $40 million through the Commander's Emergency Response Program to fund more than 900 projects that specifically target the needs of women and girls in Afghanistan.
“More than a third of these [projects] were directly focused on improving the education of women and girls by repairing and building schools and women's centers, supplying education materials, and providing gender appropriate training programs,” he said.
There are many International Security Assistance Force and Afghan government programs aimed at protecting women's rights and promoting women in the Afghan security forces, Sedney said. However, he acknowledged, implementation of a gender policy within the Afghan armed forces is a long-term project.
“Ensuring that this increased civic and political participation continues and improves is dependent upon effective rule of law,” Sedney said, adding that Afghan women's participation in the justice system raises awareness and improves implementation of Afghanistan’s laws and government Constitution.
Afghan women at the local level are gaining increased presence and visibility through the National Solidarity Program, Sedney said, and they constitute 24 percent of the participants in these local community development councils, which bring “real improvements in the lives of every day average Afghan women.”
DOD efforts, he said, will continue to support women's security initiatives in Afghanistan through ISAF programs to develop Afghan National Security Forces and increased recruitment of women into the country’s security forces.
“Many of the women who have benefitted the most from the progress … are most at risk.” Sedney said. “They feel that they will be killed as a result of participating in the opportunities that we've helped bring them.”