We must listen to the voices of Afghan women and girls when making decisions about them
There is no question that the United Kingdom has let down the people of Afghanistan. And there is no question that we have let down – and continue to let down – Afghan women and girls.
Those involved in foreign, defence and development policy relating to Afghanistan may well have had good intentions. Certainly no one can fault the focus in UK aid spending in the decades prior to the fall of Kabul on empowering women and girls. And indeed, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact lists this as one of the few positive impacts of spending during that period.
But well documented errors were also made. Errors which led to the swift return of the Taliban following the withdrawal of external troops. Errors which have left Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan removed of both their rights and liberties.
There is no question that we have let down – and continue to let down – Afghan women and girls
It is in this context that I and my fellow co-chairs have set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Afghan Women and Girls.
There is one underlying principle to the APPG. It must raise the voices of Afghan women and girls themselves; and ensure that experts in this field – whether it be through lived experience or specialisation – are engaged in policy making. Last September, before the APPG was formally constituted, Afghan women came to Parliament to talk to MPs. To share their experiences, their hopes for their country, their worries, and what their immediate and long-term needs were. It was an incredible evening for those Members who were able to attend; and one that was ultimately hopeful about the future of Afghanistan if one day these women and many others can be engaged in its reconstruction.
But as the APPG seeks to elevate the voices of Afghan women – and in the long run facilitate permanent forums with policy makers therefore making ourselves redundant – we have put some immediate vital asks to the government.
We must maintain aid spending in Afghanistan – but the government must also focus on where the spending goes and how to reach people, including women. The Taliban’s ban on women working for NGOs will inevitably push them to the back of the queue. There are experts who could advise the government on this, and we urge them to engage.
The government must also create an asylum route for women in Afghanistan at risk. This starts with a discussion about what at risk means. The European Union Agency for Asylum has now declared that women and girls are at such a risk of persecution that they could be considered generally eligible for refugee status in Europe. But at the very least, we must consider those deemed most at risk: judges, prosecutors, human-rights defenders, politicians, journalists, policewomen, domestic intelligence and security officers, teachers, health workers, activists, artists and musicians.
And underlying every ask, is the need to hear Afghan women; to make policy and take action having considered their particular experiences. There are reports of official emails advising Afghans at risk to cross to third countries such as Pakistan; advice unsuited to women who may be no safer on arrival. This is just one example of the errors that are made when the right voices are not in the room.
Members will know that APPG meetings are not the best room for voices to be in to be heard by decision makers. But this APPG aims to be a bridge to the places which do matter because Afghan women and girls must be at the centre of the decisions made about them.
Wendy Chamberlain, Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife and chair of the APPG for Afghan Women and Girls.
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