CANADA/AFGHANISTAN: Focus Future Afghan efforts on Women, Report Urges

Thursday, December 16, 2010
The Star
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Human Rights

A new Senate committee urges the government to put women's rights in Afghanistan at the top of its priority list for the post-2011 mission.

Canadian soldiers who are training Afghan security forces should instill the legal liberties afforded to the country's downtrodden women in the national constitution, the report says. Canadian diplomats and other government officials need to ensure women have a voice and fair representation in peace talks that seek to end the 10-year conflict.

And Canadian development assistance should be focused on holding the perpetrators of violence against women to account under the law and promoting initiatives that raise awareness of laws that seek to reduce violence against women, the report recommends.

As the combat mission draws to a close in 2011, Canada has accepted a new three-year mission to train Afghan security forces in and around Kabul, part of a broader NATO attempt to instill rigour and professionalism in the underpaid and poorly regarded national police and military forces.

The Conservative government says it intends to pull diplomats and aid workers, as well as soldiers, out of Kandahar and relocate them to Kabul. There, officials will focus their efforts on four areas: the education and health of Afghan children; advancing security, rule of law and human rights; promoting regional diplomacy; and delivering humanitarian assistance.

But aid workers will be doing these tasks with fewer people and only about $100 million a year, significantly less than Canada spends on development and aid currently.

The report of the Senate committee on human rights says this change of mission gives Canada an opportunity to take a “coherent development approach” that promotes women's rights. To date, international efforts in this regard have been “ad hoc and inconsistent,” the report says.

The committee noted testimony from witnesses that indicated women are better off in Afghanistan than before the 2001 invasion. But as President Hamid Karzai's government and the international community push for a political settlement to the war against the Taliban and other insurgent fighters, there are great fears those gains will be given up in order to appease Islamic hardliners and tribal leaders.

“The committee acknowledges that striking the right balance between respect for the local context and adherence to international human rights standards is no simple task,” the report says.

“Nonetheless, the committee is convinced that, if the international community works in close partnership with the Afghan government and with a diverse range of local societal actors – so long as women are included and allowed to speak with their own voices – that such a balance is possible.”