Event Report

 Feminist Foreign Policy in the context of Afghanistan

March 31 2022, 06:30 pm

Since the Russian invasion in Ukraine at the end of February 2022, Afghanistan disappeared from media attention. However, the reason for this is not the improvement of the current situation. Several months after the Taliban took power and US and German troops withdrew, Afghanistan is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), 97% of the population is expected to live below the poverty line in the next six months, while around 23 million Afghans are already living in acute food insecurity. International sanctions and the horrific ruling of the Taliban in the government do the rest. The latter ensures that women are denied their basic rights and human rights defenders are being threatened. In the last month alone, the Taliban announced that schoolgirls from grade 7 onwards are no longer allowed to attend classes, secondary schools remain closed and women are only allowed to travel with a male escort. More funding for humanitarian aid is urgently needed, but this will not be enough to ensure the long-term stabilization of Afghanistan and the safeguarding of women’s rights. 

The new German government has agreed on a feminist foreign policy which is also mentioned in the coalition contract. A Feminist Foreign Policy puts the lives of traditionally marginalized groups, such as women, girls or ethnic minorities at the center of all political actions and processes. It also offers an alternative lens to traditional security and foreign policy and the global systems of power. Some argue that it is rather a theoretical concept and lags practical guidelines and recommendations. The question therefore arises to what extent a feminist foreign policy can contribute to solutions in the context of Afghanistan.

In order to get closer to this question with possible answers, we spoke with Dr. Sima Samar, Agnieszka Brugger and Heather Barr at a joint event of the programmes Gender and International Politics, Peace & Conflict and connectingAsia.

Human rights expert Dr. Sima Samar, former Minister for Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan and long-time human rights activist, started the conversation by giving an insight into developments in women’s rights in the last decades. At that time, women were represented in parliament, in the police and in the judiciary. Also shelter systems in cases of gender-based violence and a number of laws that were supposed to ensure the protection of women from domestic violence and “honour killings” were established. She made it clear that these efforts were imperfect successes, most of which have since been abolished. The cause? Among other things, the absence of women in peace negotiations!

Agnieszka Brugger, who has been a member of the German parliament for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and a member of the Defense Committee since 2009, then spoke about mistakes made by the previous German government. She criticized that Germany’s military engagement lacked a solution strategy for the main causes of the conflict. Therefore, she supported the upcoming committee of inquiry (“Untersuchungsausschuss”) to evaluate the Afghanistan mission as well as the establishment of an Enquete Commission.

But how can the Afghan population be helped now and how can women and other marginalized groups be supported immediately? Heather Barr, deputy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) for the Women’s Rights Division, shifts the focus to the evacuation of local Afghan forces and women’s rights activists. She criticizes the long waiting lists and demands that the families of activists should also be supported as soon as possible. She also talked about the importance of funding education projects for women and girls.

During the discussion, the panelists criticized the role of Western media and their instrumentalization and the way states deal with the Taliban. One aspect in particular stood out: the situation in Afghanistan must not be forgotten. Western states bear a historical share of the blame for the wars and conflicts in Afghanistan. Now that the international leadership of the USA is wavering, it is up to states like Germany to stand up for human rights. Feminist foreign policy is more than just a nice phrase. Afghanistan is the place to prove it.

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