Activists urge Cameron to fight for Afghan women’s rights

The 445 British soldiers killed in the war in Afghanistan will have died in vain if David Cameron fails to protect Afghan women’s rights once his troops return home next year, two leading female activists warned on Friday. (The Times)

Samira Hamidi and Manizha Naderi urged the Prime Minister not to forget Afghan women, while on a trip to London from Kabul.

“Women think that the minute the [Nato-led] security forces are withdrawn, that is the time the countries will also make their focus less on the development issue,” said Ms Hamidi, who has just finished a one-year scholarship studying human rights law at York University.

“I want to say to the UK Government that they have to guarantee to women that they will continue the support they have massively given until now.”

The two activists, who are on a week-long visit arranged by Amnesty International to raise awareness about the plight of Afghan women, advised against any talks with the Taleban – a reconciliation policy that the UK Government has begun to support. Such a move would lead to an erosion of women’s hard-fought rights.

“It is going to be a loss for both Afghans and the international community who came to Afghanistan and whose sons and daughters lost their blood in Afghanistan,” said Ms Hamidi, 34, who works for a group called the Empowerment Centre for Women.

Mr Cameron has focused on the need to prevent al-Qaeda militants from using Afghanistan to hatch plots to attack the UK and its allies when justifying Britain’s ongoing engagement in the war, rather than echoing the aspirations of the previous Labour Government to bring human rights and democracy to the country.

Ms Naderi, however, warned that it would be impossible to have security in Afghanistan if women’s rights were not upheld. “You can’t have peace with 50 per cent of the population on its knees,” she said. “How are the politicians and the British public going to live with themselves if in five years’ time they are watching their television sets and see women being executed in the street again? That should not be an option.”

Ms Naderi, 37, who returned to Afghanistan in 2006 after spending many years in the United States, runs shelters in nine of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces for abused women and their children as executive director of an organisation called Women for Afghan Women. The shelters – a relatively new concept for Afghanistan, where women are traditionally closely guarded by their families – have attracted controversy because many people regard them as brothels.

As a result, Ms Naderi said that they were vulnerable to the threat of closure should support for women’s rights be reversed.

“At any given time we have 500 to 600 women and children living under our roofs. If we were forced to close down any of them it would be a disaster,” she said.

There was also concern about the rise in attacks against women in positions of authority, such as senior female police officers and Government officials.

Ms Hadiri said that she had received death threats over the phone. They prompted her last year to step down early from a high-profile job promoting women’s rights.