Afghanistan’s horrendous choice: War with women’s rights or peace with servitude

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Today is International Women’s Day and as my contribution I am focusing on Afghanistan as both the UK and the US cut their support to this country

I have recently come across a searing Congressional report from the United States Inspectorate on Afghanistan Reconstruction on the state of women’s and girl’s equality there.

Everybody knows the years of conflict which has cost British and American lives to rid the country of the Taliban regime and their horrendous treatment of women.

But this report shines a different light on the current plight of women just as the UK and the US are about to leave the country should a deal be possible between the war lords and the Taliban.

The United States has spent £564m in aid over nearly 20 years on women and girls

It reveals that during the never ending conflict from 2002 to 2020 the US has spent some £564.6 million on women and girls. On one level the achievement for women has been startling. From virtually no girls in schools under the Taliban there are now 3.5 million girls receiving an education. And a third of the country’s 210,000 teachers are now women but mainly in urban areas like Kabul.

There have been improvements in maternity care despite a horrendous death rate among pregnant women. Prenatal care coverage rose from 16 percent of pregnant women in 2002 to 61 percent in 2015. Postnatal care coverage increased from an average of 28 percent between 2005 and 2010 to 40 percent in 2015. And the number of trained midwives rose from a pathetic 467 in 2002 to roughly 4,000 in 2018.

There is, like many other areas, a huge disparity between urban and rural areas. Some 16 per cent of women died in childbirth in Kabul rising to an alarming 65 per cent in one rural province in 2002. This has improved with various estimates from the UK, Irish and World Health Organisation by between 19 per cent and 50 per cent, because reliable statistics are difficult to verify.

What has not improved particularly in rural areas is the attitude towards women. The US government also tried to encourage women to join the army and the police – this was the least effective of their programmes. “Targets have been highly unrealistic and unachievable. Although there has been a modest increase in the number of women police officers, women in all parts of the security forces face threats to their personal safety and pervasive harassment and discrimination,” says the report.

KABUL, 22 October 2019 – UNAMA Central Region Office in Kabul organized Global Open Day event, to facilitate discussion on women, peace, and security. The event was attended by 36 participants representatives from women rights activists, Government actors, schools’ teachers, local shuras, and university students. UNAMA CRO head of office In her opening remarks emphasized the importance of the Global Open Day as a forum to review the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. UNAMA Photo / Fardin Waezi.

The US aid has had more effect in getting women involved in politics and the community. The report says: “Afghan women have assumed leadership roles at the national, provincial, district, and community levels. At the same time, they face threefold threats: continued or intensified violence, the risk of Afghan peace negotiations leading to erosions of women’s rights, and a dire economic and humanitarian situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Covid 19 has caused big problems in Afghanistan. The report says: “The lack of testing capability means that up to 90 percent of collected samples are untested, and therefore go unreported. Of the limited number of tests conducted, Afghanistan’s positivity rate—the percentage of tests that reveal COVID-19 infection—was nearly 43 percent as of July 2020, one of the highest in the world.”

The World Bank is alarmed that widespread poverty will become worse as the Afghan economy is hit by the pandemic cd see those living in poverty rise to 72 per cent of the population. Cultural problems make treatment for women worse. “Due to deeply entrenched sociocultural norms, many Afghans are reluctant to allow their mothers, wives, daughters, or sisters to visit a doctor directly, or at all, if that doctor is a male.”

The future is not rosy in other areas for women. The report found “Some of the gains made for girls in access to education may not be sustainable, since a large portion of the education sector in Afghanistan is dependent on international donor funding for maintaining and expanding those gains.”

No level playing field for men and women in meetings

And it is not a level playing field in political meetings. One woman told the report “When we have meetings and both men and women raise their hands and show their cards, the respect that is given to men is not given to women. The time which is given to men is not given to women. When a woman speaks, she is not allowed to speak more than three minutes, but a man is allowed to speak more than 15 minutes.”

Women are still scared in many parts of the country to go out alone as they can face harassment and violence from men. SIGAR interviewed 65 people from all Afghanistan’s 14 provinces and both men and women said it was society’s constraints that held women back.

The time which is given to men is not given to women. When a woman speaks, she is not allowed to speak more than three minutes, but a man is allowed to speak more than 15 minutes.”

Afghan woman

Many interviewees—male and female—said that social and cultural norms are one of the biggest barriers to Afghan women’s advancement, particularly in rural areas. “Men in our community think the role of women is to sit at home and cook. If their mothers tell them to behave well with their wives, so they do, and if their mothers order them to beat their wives and misbehave, so they also do,” said a woman from Nangarhar Province.

President Biden will decide soon whether to completely pull out of Afghanistan which was the policy of the Trump administration. The UK, according to a leaked report to Open Democracy will cut aid sharply to Afghanistan shortly. Once again it will be women who will lose out and many of their fragile gains could once again be lost. As the report said if the Taliban and other war lords regain full control “the effort to promote women’s rights may be hampered by a growing narrative in Afghanistan that the country can either have women’s rights at the cost of peace, or peace at the cost of women’s rights.”

The full report by SIGAR is worth a good read.

Exclusive: How the People’s Tribunal will fight for every discriminated woman and girl in the UK

This new film released today covers both the reaction to the Judicial Review hearing last month and the birth of the People’s Tribunal. It also shows that under BackTo60’s leadership the two are interlinked.

The BackTo60 campaign was aimed to help 3.8 million women born in the 1950s get full restitution for their pensions. The People’s Tribunal has a hugely enlarged audience covering all women and girls in the United Kingdom and seeking to end the discrimination against all women.

Both are linked by injustice. The 50sWomen campaign wants restitution for the implementation of unfair laws – the 1995, 2007 and 2011 Pensions Act because of the adverse effect on one large group of women.

The People’s Tribunal want the UK to bring into domestic law the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

The UK is already signed up to the convention – Margaret Thatcher did so in 1986 – but unlike other countries has not put the convention into UK law. The UK has also never appointed a representative to sit on the UN committee in Geneva either.

Any such legislation would transform women’s rights to fight discrimination and have a massive effect on the legal system of this country.

It would also give women a massive confidence boost that they would know beyond doubt they are equal to men and if they are treated any worse than men have a powerful tool to pursue any injustice through law.

Some people might think that in modern Britain women already do have equal rights with men. But when you think that despite equal pay laws and an Equality Act under the Blair Labour government, many women still do not have equal pay now nor do they have equal progression in their chosen career.

Despite strides – including all women short lists – there is not equal representation in Parliament among MPs and women more than men suffer domestic abuse.

Professor Jackie Jones, who was an expert witness in the judicial review and is part of the People’s Tribunal team, explains all of this very well in another YouTube video which you can watch below.

Finally all this going to cost money and today the People’s Tribunal launch a big crowdfunding appeal to set up and run the tribunal. They need to raise £75,000 but it will be worth every penny. The link top the crowdfunder is here.

A new campaign: A People’s Tribunal to get rid of ALL discrimination against girls and women.

BackTo60 yesterday launched a new campaign to get the United Kingdom to implement something they should done 34 years ago – pass laws to both empower and eliminate all discrimination against women.

For 1986 is the year Margaret Thatcher decided to sign up to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( acronym CEDAW) but failed to put through Parliament any laws to back it up.

This should not be a Left versus Right issue – since Thatcherites and Corbynites and anybody in between- should agree. Unless they still hold the nineteenth century view that half the nation are inferior and should not have equal rights with men.

BackTo60 decided to launch this because next week’s Court of Appeal hearing on the government’s denial to pay back the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s their pensions from 60 to 66 – also involve the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – because there was no level playing field for women to get their pension in the first place.

This enormously broadens BackTo 60’s campaign since it involves campaigning for the rights of half the population.

The mechanism they have chosen to bring this to public attention is a People’s Tribunal – these date back to the 1960s when the Bertrand Russell Foundation – held an inquiry into the US role in the Vietnam War.

This new tribunal is expected to consist of three independent ( probably retired) judges and led by the advocate John Cooper QC. a human rights and criminal law barrister, who is regarded by the Times as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the country, and was on the tribunal that investigated atrocities in Iran.

Two other key members are Professor Jackie Jones,a former MEP for Wales and Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of West England , a leading advocate and expert on CEDAW and Hannah Manzur, a former EU  Gender Policy Advisor at the European Parliament,. Here is the full statement:

John Cooper said the issue should not be controversial – ” it is like motherhood and apple pie”.

He said the tribunal should have three main goals – independence, transparency and authenticity.

” There are three main areas to investigate: Why CEDAW has never put into UK law; whether there was any good reason for not doing so, and most importantly, to make recommendations on what should happen next.”

He added that he was already having support for the idea from a number of leading figures.

Jackie Jones said on the launch: ” Enough is Enough. We have waited nearly 40 years for this. It high time this is written into law and it is really important that girls now at school should be able to reach their full potential.”

Hannah Manzur said :

“We are delighted to announce the establishment of the CEDAW People’s Tribunal which will act as a powerful tool in both pushing for progress on gender equality and shining a light on the Government’s failure to uphold its binding promise to take proactive and comprehensive steps to eliminate gender discrimination.

” Forty years after this groundbreaking international convention was signed by the Government, women and girls still face overwhelming barriers to achieving their full potential due to persistent inequality and discrimination.

“This Tribunal will collect an authoritative body of evidence and expertise which will be reviewed and deliberated on by a panel of independent judges.

” We will be working to assess the gap between the Government’s commitment to CEDAW and its record on gender equality, including its failure to transpose CEDAW into domestic law and appoint a UK CEDAW representative. It’s time for us to hold the Government to account on its duty to eliminate discrimination against women and make gender equality a reality for women and girls across the UK.”

The only thing I have to add is that I shall be backing this campaign with the same vigour I have showed in reporting and investigating the BackTo60 campaign for full restitution for the 3.8m women who lost out on the raising of the pension age.

Revealed: The man who sacked a woman on maternity leave is now head campaigner for women’s equality in Scotland

john_wilkes credit thirdforcenews

John Wilkes, now chief executive of the Scottish Equality and Human Rights Commission Pic credit:Third Force News

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

Meet John  Wilkes. He is now chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland. The ECHR’s top campaign at the moment is fighting against  the discrimination  of women who take maternity leave from their jobs.

As the ECHR’s own research says on its latest campaigns website says:

  • Around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year.”

Great words. But they didn’t seem to reach John Wilkes before he took up his highly paid post at the ECHR in Glasgow.

Then he held the job of chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, a respected body. Now after the findings of a tribunal hearing in Glasgow ot appears to do more for refugees than its own employees.

And one of those was Petra Kasparek,who was employed as a refugee integration adviser, who became pregnant and took maternity leave. When she decided to come back to work she faced a gruelling interview which included responding to some questions she would have been unable to answer properly, and then declared redundant.

The man who stood in for her Stephen McGuire was also sacked.

But a ruling on 6 July by a Glasgow employment tribunal has ruled that both were unfairly dismissed and that Ms Kasparek suffered indirect sexual discrimination under the Equality Act.  Both are to get compensation amounting to thousands of pounds and the tribunal ordered Mr McGuire to be reinstated. The case was championed by their union, Unite, which even proposed ways to solve the dispute without sacking either of them.

But the most severe criticism comes in the tribunal’s view of John Wilkes whose knowledge of the law and procedures as a chief executive seems remarkably lacking for such an experienced official whose Linked In profile portrays him as a top notch executive.

The tribunal said that Mr Wilkes had “a surprisingly poor understanding of the SRC’s ( Scottish Refugee Council’s) policies and procedures.”He  had “a poor grasp of how some of the SRC’s actions were at variance with its formal policies.”

He  and the head of finance there also had”  a striking lack of insight and appreciation of the criticisms levelled at their decisions.”

One of the points raised at the hearing from Mr Wilkes was that Ms Kasparek had not tried hard enough after leaving to get a similarly better paid job so she wasn’t entitled to compensation. In my view the man shows surprisingly little empathy or understanding of women who are looking after a baby.

The damaging point is  he is now in charge of Scotland’s Equality and Human Rights Commission policies including a campaign to help women being unfairly treated at work. One wonders how sympathetic he will be.

I put this to the Scottish EHRC and got a stock reply saying:

“John has brought to the Commission a wealth of experience, knowledge and dedication to our role in creating a fairer society and is making a valuable contribution to our work.”

I did ask whether Mr Wilkes had been sent on a retraining programme since his knowledge of  indirect discrimination under the Equality Act and other laws seemed to be rather minimal. But they told me they had nothing more to say.

Given the recent history of the EHRC in sacking disabled and black staff  I might have been asking the wrong questions. He will probably fit in well with the ethos there.

He is also not the only recent appointment to the EHRC from organisations that had discriminated against women on maternity leave.