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War on Terror and De-securitization of Afghan Women

For decades, western interests have securitized and de-securitized Afghan women’s rights and agency.

The international normative climate created by the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) influenced the 2004 Afghan constitution and the National Action Plan on Women in Afghanistan. These were instrumental for Afghan feminist activist in civil society, government and academia to advocate for gender-inclusive peace and security policy on national level. The paradigm shift from political realism and traditional security to non-traditional and human security places Afghan women at the heart of the peace process in Afghanistan—except it has failed to secure women’s agency and meaningful participation.

In 2001, in an act of retribution to multiple attacks on its soil, the United States declared a “War on Terror” in Afghanistan. The Bush administration called upon the world to either stand with a “Failed State” that harbors terrorism or eliminate Al-Qaeda. First Lady Laura Bush in her radio broadcast urged the world to condemn oppression of Afghan women. Politicization of women was meticulously used as a tool to justify ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan. For the first time in the history, women’s security was embedded into the foreign policy agenda of United States and European states including Britain. This came at a time when the United States, the emancipator of women grappled in heinous crimes, had not even signed the CEDAW. Afghan women were used like a ventriloquist’s dummy to justify the invasion of Afghanistan.

This ventriloquism of Afghan women continued up to 2018. However, despite the unprecedented insecurity, Afghan women continued to modify donor-instigated alien developments imported from international community. The Afghan women’s feminist perspective of security was broadened beyond realpolitik to human security. Women rights were broadly institutionalized; quotas, reservations and systemic reforms took place throughout these years.

As a result, numerous reforms were introduced and welcomed by Afghan women; their political rights and 27% representation of women in legislative were guaranteed in the constitution of Afghanistan. The country had signed certain international treaties and conventions to secure women’s equal rights, for instance, ratification of CEDAW and CSW secured women political rights through affirmative action. The milestone of women security was crossed when Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) was passed as presidential decree in 2009.

Additionally, prominent gains came from parliamentarian women’s bargaining on child protection act. Women and child activists hailed the win as a landmark development, criminalizing under-age marriages. Female participants using resolution 1325 were at the forefront to make the act sail through the house. Women were also participating in nation building and peacemaking initiatives. Nine out of 79 members involved in negotiations with Taliban in a high level peace council were women.

While human security of women during peace building were critically prioritized and politicized for last 20 years, the United States unpredictably de-securitized women in a turbulent peace deal signed with Taliban in Doha. They were no more a significant factor in US foreign policy. The symbolic use of Afghan women to justify US war came to an end, when the US decided to withdraw, cunningly leaving the fate of Afghan women at the mercy of patriarchal society in general and a barbaric terrorist group in particular. Their agency was de-securitized during peace deal signed between Taliban and the United States in February 2020. From a women-centric foreign policy in 2001 to the politics of reductionism in 2020, women’s security plunged from panic politics to normal politics.

Afghan women’s exclusion from peace deal had been the first risk factor for women’s uncertainty followed by their symbolic presence on negotiation table with Taliban during intra-Afghan talks in Doha. In an interview with Habiba Sarabi member of intra- Afghan peace talks delegation, she said:

Taliban would not talk to women. Each time I asked them to include a woman in their team, they said why don’t you represent us? They ambiguously interpreted women’s rights as rights designated to women under Sharia. A much of secrecy was going in the intra-Afghan peace negotiations.”

To conclude, the epistemic violence of United States and international community to securitize and de-securitize Afghan women represents a colonial feminist logic. The champions of women interests and representation backtracked on 20 years’ ideals of democracy, rights, liberties, achievements, and reforms were rolled back, signed and submitted to Islamic Emirates of Taliban, a terrorist group perceived to be the enemy of ideals stated above. A masculine war followed by masculine peace once again decided the fate of Afghan women.

The entire twenty years struggling crossroad of women security over militarism has in fact, resulted in a retreat of women’s social and political cherished ideals to the dark days of women’s social existential threat and an atmosphere of uncertainty. What Afghanistan is seeing today is a more diplomatic terrorist group where representatives of the Taliban have masked their atrocities and put efforts together to represent a more human picture of war crimes undertaken post August 2021.

Spouzhmai Akberzai is a feminist and member of Afghan Women’s Network. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Political Science from University of Delhi. She is currently pursuing fellowship on Youth Atrocity Prevention- Feminist understanding of Violence.


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