AFGHANISTAN: Chicago's Other Summit: The Future of Afghanistan's Women

Monday, May 21, 2012
Carol Zall for PRI's The World
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Anchor Aaron Schachter talks with journalist Gayle Lemmon about a “shadow summit” on Afghanistan's women that took place Sunday in Chicago alongside the NATO summit there.

The summit was organized by Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, protesters have been demonstrating outside the main NATO summit in Chicago.

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Aaron Schachter:

President Obama's focus was on Afghanistan today, on the second and final day of the NATO Summit in Chicago. Obama and other leaders signed the pact to officially end the war in Afghanistan in 2014. The agreement calls for an irreversible transition in the country, with Afghan forces in charge of security by next summer. That transition was also discussed at another summit in Chicago yesterday. It was a shadow summit on Afghan women organized by Amnesty International. Journalist Gayle Lemmon has reported widely on Afghanistan's women, and she was at the meeting. In fact she moderated the panel there that included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Lemmon says that when it comes to deciding Afghanistan's future:

Gayle Lemmon:

Women do still remain in the shadows of the conversation. And I think that was the point of Amnesty trying to bring a number of people together to have this discussion. And one thing that was so interesting was Secretary of State Albright talking about the fact that she still has to persuade policy makers. She and Ambassador Revere and Secretary Clinton and a number of others, still has to persuade policy makers that women should be at the table rather than with their noses pressed against the window.


And why do you think this isn't part of the discussion?


You know I asked them that on the panel and their answer was that because it's still seen as a trade off, right? Supporting women versus supporting security. Rather than one complementing the other, that when you have women involved in their communities, communities are more stable, more secure, and more financially prosperous, which does make a difference in terms of the security. And we're not talking about fancy things, we're talking about the right to go to work, and the right to go to school, to contribute to their own community. And I think trying to frame it as a plus, rather than a trade off is the challenge facing policy makers.


Now you were part of two panels at the shadow summit. Did you hear anything at the conference that you hadn't heard before?


You know I, yeah I have done a lot of reporting. So most of it I've heard, but there was a really fascinating debate between two women leaders about whether or not Taliban negotiations were a good idea, and possibly fruitful. On one side, you know, one group of Afghan women who were there at the table, said you know look, you cant negotiate with the Taliban because they've tried that in Pakistan and they promised they would protect girl's schools and women's right to work and those promises went to, you know, nothing, almost immediately. And then there on the other side, there were women who said, look we have to be at the table. We may not love the idea of these negotiations, but if we are not at the table as Congresswoman Schakowsky says, we might be on the menu. So I think that is what the discussion really centered around. Do you engage, or do you not?


What has to change, do you think, in order to insure that the progress that has been made for women in Afghanistan continues rather than going backwards?


I think there is a lot that has still to be done and the question is really whether you go back to a time, you know, in 2001 where women couldn't leave the house by themselves, couldn't go to work, couldn't get educated, or whether you build on the some of the gains that have been made. And when you spend time on the ground with men and women, who are really fighting for their societies, you realize that the desire for progress and the hunger to be a part of the rest of the world is enormous, particularly among the young generation. What I do get concerned about in terms of the future for some of the people I've reported on for years is that I think for years the international community has seen women as a pet project, rather than a stability indicator. And the truth is that in neighborhoods and in communities where women are contributing, you do see the benefits to families, to men and to women. And I still think it goes back to people seeing this as an either or, rather than something that benefits everyone.


Journalist Gayle Lemmon speaking to us about yesterday's shadow summit on Afghan women that was alongside the NATO Summit in Chicago. She's the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana. Thanks very much Gayle.


Thank you.