International Security Assistance Force commander U.S. Marine Gen. John R. Allen and NATO's senior civilian representative to Afghanistan Simon Gass hosted a roundtable discussion at ISAF Headquarters, June 3, inviting female members of the Afghan Parliament, members of the High Peace Council, and prominent members of civil society.
“As we look a decade into the future, we should remember that just a decade in the past a meeting like this would've been unimaginable,” Allen said. “Now it is the return to the darkness of the Taliban regime that is unimaginable.”
During the last 10 years, called the “Decade of Transformation,” more Afghan women have re-emerged as prominent members of government, but Allen says that's only the beginning.
“The women of Afghanistan serve as a bulwark against the return to the darkness of the nineties. This esteemed group of leaders, and your sisters who couldn't be here today, willing to step forward, speak out, and stand firmly in defense of your nation, its security, and the possibility of a brighter future for all Afghans – you are role models with an impact felt both in your country and beyond.”
During the NATO Summit in Chicago last month, as the international community and NATO made a commitment to continue to help Afghanistan through 2014 and beyond, gender integration into the Afghan National Security Forces and other women's issues have risen to the forefront of discussions.
For NATO and the international community, continued fiscal, advisory, and training support for upcoming years comes with conditions – conditions of quantifiable improvements and positive progress toward the peace process and in women's issues, according to Gass. Gass said the re-affirmation of continued support international support for Afghanistan well beyond 2014 is a “strong message” not only to Afghanistan, but to the Taliban and insurgents.
Afghanistan's government re-affirmed their commitment toward the peace process when both upper and lower houses of the Afghan Parliament voted unanimously for the Strategic Partnership Agreement. The agreement clearly states the Afghan's government's wish for both NATO and the international community's continued presence in Afghanistan through 2014.
Allen pointed out the increasing numbers of women joining the ranks of the ANSF and civil service.
“By stepping forward to serve, you are strengthening the linkages between the Afghanistan's government and civil society,” Allen said.
For Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, a member of the Afghan Parliament (Lower House) and an outspoken advocate for Afghan women's issues, the meeting between members of the Afghanistan government and international community entities such as NATO and ISAF are essential to set a good platform for the future.
After three decades of fighting under non-democratic rule, the role of Afghan women was altered to a point away from their pure culture and history, said Naderi.
“I have said that Afghanistan not only needs building construction, but also mental construction,” Naderi said.