In an effort to kick-start public debate on Canada's post-combat mission in Afghanistan, CARE Canada recommends the government become an international champion for Afghan women.
Canada should focus on preserving and enhancing gains made by Afghan women, among the poorest and least powerful in the world, after troops withdraw by the end of next year, the non-government aid agency says in a report released Wednesday.
"With the reconciliation and reintegration process underway and donor nations in addition to Canada planning for the end of their own military missions in Afghanistan, the situation for Afghan women has reached a critical crossroads," CARE says.
"Major gains have been made over the last decade which stand precariously close to being lost."
It says billions of dollars worth of international initiatives focused on Afghan women's health, education, economic and social well-being "are happening in a haphazard fashion and with no central leadership or co-ordination."
Describing Canada as attuned to recognizing the need to help women, "CARE believes that Canada has both the authority and the capacity to provide the leadership on women's empowerment that the international aid community has been lacking."
The organization consulted an array of development, human rights and women's experts in Afghanistan to produce the report prepared by Jennifer Rowell and edited by Kieran Green.
Officials were scheduled to release it on Parliament Hill where debate has yet to take place on the priorities of Canada's post-combat policies.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the mission will consist of continued diplomacy and development. The Senate defence committee has called for some Canadian troops to stay behind to train Afghan soldiers and police.
"In Afghanistan today there is widespread impunity for crimes against women, rampant threats to women leaders, and a lack of political will to either protect those leaders or investigate and prosecute the crimes perpetrated against them," CARE says in recommending continued Canadian assistance with the justice system.
The report contains dozens of recommendations, ranging from making Afghanistan a priority country for funds from the Muskoka initiative on maternal and child health; to ensuring women have a role in bodies that will implement peace and reconciliation processes.
"The most palpable danger is that the hard-fought gains made over the last nine years in advancing women's freedoms to work, go to school, seek medical care, and be active members of public life — gains which are still tenuous for many, and far from universal across the country — would be consciously sacrificed in order to secure a broader political compromise at the national and local levels," it said. "There is good reason to be concerned, as there is no overt champion of women's rights amongst those set to approach the negotiating table."
CARE says one of the great success stories in Afghanistan is that children in school soared to more than seven million, one-third of whom are girls, from about 100,000 children — almost all boys — in 2001.
But even more girls could go to school if there were more female teachers and security, the report said.