ICYMI: U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen & Angelina Jolie in Washington Post Op-Ed: “We all have a stake in the rights of women in Afghanistan.”

May 13, 2021

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the only woman and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post with humanitarian and filmmaker Angelina Jolie on why the United States must prioritize the rights and freedoms of Afghan women as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan.  

In their op-ed, Shaheen and Jolie share the stories of Afghan women and girls murdered by the Taliban and warn that violence and oppression will likely return unless the international community, led by the United States, develops a strategy to preserve the hard-fought gains for women’s rights. They argue that what happens over the next few months is pivotal to protect Afghan women for generations to come, and they urge the international community to make an enduring commitment to ensure women’s rights are preserved. Shaheen and Jolie’s op-ed comes less than a week after a devastating bombing in Kabul targeted a girls’ high school, killing 85 people. 

They write, To prevent a return to this violence, the international community and all those who care about a free and stable Afghanistan must develop a strategy for preserving and promoting the rights of Afghan women.” Shaheen, author of the Women, Peace and Security Act that bolsters women’s roles in peace negotiations and conflict resolution, and Jolie, a humanitarian and filmmaker, go on to outline steps the U.S. should take to preserve gains made on women’s rights in Afghanistan, which includes amplifying women’s voices in Afghan political and civil society and prioritizing diplomatic efforts with our international partners to secure a stable Afghanistan.  

Senator Shaheen recently met virtually with women members of Afghanistan’s Parliament to discuss the rights and futures of women and girls in Afghanistan as the United States begins withdrawal. Shaheen has expressed disappointment in the President’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops by September 11, 2021, underscoring the risks of losing hard-fought gains in the country and serious concerns regarding the rights of women and girls at the hands of the Taliban. Just last week, Shaheen raised these issues with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing. 

Senator Shaheen has repeatedly fought to make the inclusion of Afghan women in ongoing negotiations a U.S. foreign policy priority. In a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Shaheen highlighted the stories of seven women who were brutally murdered by the Taliban and pointed to a newly declassified report that portends poorly for the fate of Afghan women following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The report finds that achievements in women’s rights have been made when the international community prioritizes women’s rights in Afghanistan. She previously raised this with Secretary of State Blinken, both before and during his confirmation hearing. Senator Shaheen repeatedly pushed former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make women’s inclusion in Afghan peace negotiations a U.S. foreign policy priority under the Trump administration. During a congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan in 2019, Shaheen met with a group of Afghan women who described how dramatically their lives had improved since the Taliban government was toppled nearly 2 decades ago. Shaheen is the author of the Women, Peace and Security Act, which was signed into law in 2017 and secures women’s leadership roles in conflict resolution and peace negotiations. 

Read the full op-ed from Senator Shaheen and Angelina Jolie here or below. 

Washington Post: Opinion: Here’s How to Ensure Afghan Women Are Protected After the U.S. Withdrawal 

By Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Angelina Jolie 

May 12, 2021 

Fatima Khalil was an Afghan girl, born in Pakistan. After the U.S. intervention in 2001, she returned to Afghanistan, went to school in Kabul and ultimately graduated with a double major in anthropology and human rights. She could have worked abroad. Instead, she took a job at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. She was assassinated in a bomb attack on her way to work last year. She was 24. 

Fatima's story tells us a great deal about the fate of Afghanistan, and of Afghan women, over the past 20 years. There are women who are now able to choose careers previously unavailable to them. Girls who are able to leave the house freely to go to school or college. This bright new generation doesn't know a different Afghanistan, and they shouldn't have to. 

U.S. and NATO allies have decided to withdraw from Afghanistan. We accept that we must now work with this decision. One of the most pressing needs is a strategy to protect the progress made to ensure that women can live openly and freely in civil society as they have for nearly two decades. 

Great strides have been made since the Taliban last held power, but that has not removed threats on women's lives. Women are still gunned down in the streets while going to work or school. Last week, the world saw another horrific example of this violence when more than 85 people, mostly girls attending Sayed Ul-Shuhada High School in Kabul, were killed in a bombing. 

According to a U.S. intelligence report, 80 percent of women over the age of 18 are illiterate. And, according to the same report, as of 2017, only 16 percent of eligible women are employed. Although there is much more progress to be made, we cannot afford to lose two decades of hard-won gains. 

There are some in the West who question whether the Taliban of 2021 is different from the Taliban of 2001, whether the intervening decades have moderated its extremism. 

To answer this, we point to those who have suffered the worst of recent violence: to Fatima; to Malalai Maiwand, a television reporter who was murdered in December, five years after her mother, an activist, was killed; to Freshta Kohistani, a 29-year-old women's rights and democracy activist, who was assassinated near her home last year; to Zakia Herawi and Qadria Yasini, judges on the Afghan Supreme Court, who were murdered while they drove to work in January; to Basira, 20, Semin 24, and Negina, 24, who were shot and killed in March, while administering polio vaccines to children, and to the many other women — government employees, journalists, policewomen, doctors and nurses — who have been murdered for daring to build a better Afghanistan.  

This is violence that the Taliban conducted or condoned. Women must not be dragged back to the horror and oppression that they previously endured at the hands of the Taliban. But that is exactly what we fear will happen after the United States' abrupt departure.  

The Taliban tells the world that it believes in rights for women as they align with sharia. But the Taliban's definition of Islamic law also sanctioned the shuttering of women's schools and universities, public beatings, restricted access to medical care, the brutal enforcement of a restrictive dress code and death by stoning. 

To prevent a return to this violence, the international community and all those who care about a free and stable Afghanistan must develop a strategy for preserving and promoting the rights of Afghan women. 

First, the international community — led by the United States, as it was when we entered Afghanistan in 2001 — must use all available tools to ensure that women's rights continue to be protected. In negotiations, we must prioritize the inclusion of Afghan women and amplify their voices. 

Second, we should make clear that future assistance to any Afghan government will be tied to civil and political rights, including the treatment of women. This is not a partisan proposal; in the United States, there are politicians and government officials on all sides of the political spectrum who share our concerns and who understand the need to use U.S. assistance in a judicious and deliberate manner. To this end, we must use our assistance to make clear to the Taliban what is expected of it and what is at risk if it ignores our warnings. 

Third, there must be a major and coordinated diplomatic effort, transcending partisan differences, to bring together all countries in favor of a stable Afghanistan. Together, we need to make sure the Taliban cannot reinstate the oppression that once ruled the lives of Afghan women. 

We all have a stake in the rights of women in Afghanistan. A country that oppresses half its people will never know stability. If we want to secure long-term regional security, we cannot allow rights and freedoms to be abandoned. 

What we do over the next few months will impact the lives of Afghan women for generations to come. Our military withdrawal cannot be the end. The international community must make an enduring commitment to Afghan women and girls. We must do everything in our power to support their future.