An Open Letter to Presidents Obama and Karzai


As champions of women’s rights who are dedicated to protecting women’s human rights, we are deeply concerned that the significant gains made by women and girls in Afghanistan may be threatened as U.S. and allied troops leave the country. We urge you to adopt a comprehensive action plan to guarantee that the clock is not turned back on a decade of strides in education, health, security and employment for women and girls. At stake is the future of Afghanistan, after billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives have been sacrificed. We believe if women’s progress cannot be sustained, then Afghan society will fail.

When the United States and NATO entered Afghanistan in 2001, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated: “The recovery of Afghanistan must entail a restoration of the rights of Afghan women; indeed, it will not be possible without them.”

At the time, Afghanistan was among the world’s worst countries in terms of women’s and girls’ rights. The Taliban banned women from working, going to school or even leaving home without a male relative. They enforced these restrictions through beatings, whippings and other methods of torture. The United Nations concluded in 1999 that there was “official, widespread and systematic violations of the human rights of women.” Women were “subject to grave indignities in the areas of physical security and the rights to education, health, freedom of movement and freedom of association.”

Over the last ten years, the United States and Afghan governments and their allies have invested significantly to improve the lives of women and girls. The United States alone has spent more than $15 billion dollars on development and military programs in Afghanistan.
Today, three million girls go to school, compared to virtually none under the Taliban. Women make up 20 percent of university graduates and their numbers are growing. Maternal mortality and infant mortality have declined. Ten percent of all prosecutors and judges are women, when there were none under the Taliban.

Despite these gains, there is still much more to be done to secure rights for women and girls. Violence against women is rampant, including torture, beatings and other brutal punishments in areas under Taliban control. Women candidates, politicians and human rights defenders increasingly are targeted, intimidated, threatened and attacked. In 2010, more than 74 schools, including 26 girls’ schools and 35 mixed-gender schools, were destroyed or closed due to insurgent violence.

We are concerned that the U.S. and allied withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 may put women and girls at even greater risk of abuses. The latest statement by the Ulema Council of Afghanistan that women should “respect the right of men to polygamy” and “not travel without a close male relative,” must be viewed as a threat to women’s human rights. The Council has proclaimed that men are superior to women.

In this climate, we are alarmed that inadequate attention is being paid to women’s rights and participation in peace talks with the Taliban. Women must be empowered in the educational, economic and political life of Afghanistan or the country will fail to achieve a stable and prosperous future after a decade of effort to secure and rebuild the country.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 clearly states the importance of including women in “the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building,” and stresses “the importance of their equal participation and full involvement” at all decision-making levels; national, regional and international. Evidence shows that peace processes are considered more credible and more likely to succeed when they include women. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated in 2011: “Where women are educated and empowered, economies are more productive and strong. Where women are fully represented, societies are more peaceful and stable.”

The United States, Afghanistan, NATO and other participants in the transition process must unite behind a clear plan to protect women’s human rights in the years to come. Their leaders must rededicate themselves to uphold the commitments made at the 2001 Bonn Conference and its agreed-upon goal of “the establishment of a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic and fully representative government.” The United States, Afghanistan and other relevant parties must commit to clear, measurable steps to ensure that women’s and girls’ rights are protected and that positive momentum is maintained. Without these safeguards, any peace agreement will represent false progress and doom Afghanistan to repeat its repressive past.

The Afghan and the U.S. governments and others must take the following critical steps to protect women:

1. Ensure that any peace or reconciliation agreement text does the following:

• affirms the constitutional guarantee of equality for women and men;

• includes a commitment to full implementation the 2005 Action Plan for Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation within an agreed upon time-frame; and

• contains robust monitoring mechanisms for women’s rights with verifiable benchmarks tied to international human rights laws and standards.

2. Adhere to established red lines for Taliban reintegration that require renunciation of violence and a pledge of fealty to the Afghan Constitution.

3. Insist that peace talks are inclusive and reflective of Afghan civil society, including the participation of women at the national and provincial levels, and in both the planning stages and the talks themselves.
4. Develop and implement a plan and schedule for the convening of local consultations on how to best secure women’s human rights gains.

5. Ensure that negotiating teams involved in peace talks include at least 30 percent women.

6. Create a protected, long-term and substantial trust fund to protect women’s rights and support civil society. This trust fund must be set aside for women and administered by women, independent of government.

7. Strengthen the capacity and expertise of local justice and criminal justice institutions to protect and promote women’s rights through training on the implementation of the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law as well as reforms and systematic tracking of the women’s rights-related work of provincial units of the Attorney General’s office.

8. Fund the National Action Plan for the women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) to ensure gender mainstreaming in Afghanistan’s government institutions.

Presidents Obama and Karzai, this is the defining moment to lead on women’s human rights. Afghan women have never faced greater danger to the protection and advancement of their human rights; they need and deserve your support.
We urge you to affirm that the Afghan and U.S. governments will protect Afghan women. Their human rights, their safety, their very lives must not be sacrificed as U.S. Armed Forces withdraw from the country.



Yoko Ono Artist and Human Rights Activist

Madeleine K. Albright Former U.S. Secretary of State (1997-2001)
Sima Samar  Chairperson, Afghanistan Independent  Human Rights Commission
Meryl Streep Actress and Human Rights Activist
Mary Akrami Executive Director, Afghan Women Skills Development Center
Hangama Anwari Executive Director, Women and Children Legal Research Foundation
Judge Najla Ayubi Country Director, Open Society Afghanistan
Afifa Azim Director and Cofounder, Afghan Women’s Network
Ruqia Azizi Deputy Managing Director, Organization of Human Welfare
Joan Baez Artist and Human Rights Activist
William S. Cohen Former U.S. Secretary of Defense (1997-2001)
Shirin Ebadi Nobel Laureate for Peace, Founder, Defenders of Human Rights Center
Robert P. Finn Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan (2002-2003)
Wazhma Frogh Cofounder/Executive Director Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Afghanistan
Shafiqa Habibi Executive Director, Afghan Women Journalists Union
Samira Hamidi Afghanistan Country Director, Afghan Women’s Network
Yasmeen Hassan Global Director, Equality Now
Khaled Hosseini Author, Founder, Khaled Hosseini Foundation
Shinkai Karokhail Parliamentarian, National Assembly of Afghanistan
Zalmay Khalilzad Former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan
Stephen King Author
Lida Nadery Director of the Gender Program, Modern Organization for Development of Education
Nargis Nehan Executive Director, Equality for Peace and Democracy
Cynthia Nixon Actress and Human Rights Activist
Suzanne Nossel Executive Director Amnesty International USA
Lynn Nottage Playwright
Sandra Day O’Connor Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1981-2005)
Nasima Omari Executive Director, Women’s Capacity Building and Development Organization
Arezo Qanih Program Director, Education Training Center for Poor Women and Girls of Afghanistan
Zohra Rasekh Vice President, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Humaira Rasuli Executive Director, Medica Afghanistan
Nancy H. Rubin Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Commission of Human Rights
Hasina Safi Executive Director, Afghan Women’s Educational Center
Sabrina Saqeb Former Member of Parliament Afghanistan
Jan Schakowsky U.S. Representative, 9th Congressional District of Illinois, Democratic Party
Mahbouba Seraj Director Organization for Research for Peace & Solidarity
Hassina Sherjan Founder and CEO Aid Afghanistan for Education
Mina Sherzoy Founder, World Organization for Mutual Afghan Network
Eleanor Smeal President, Feminist Majority Foundation
Gloria Steinem Feminist, Journalist
Sir Patrick Stewart Actor and Human Rights Activist
Sting Artist and Human Rights Activist
Rose Styron Poet and Human Rights Activist
Manizha Wafeq Director, Peace through Business with Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women
Jody Williams Nobel Laureate for Peace Founder, International Campaign to Ban Landmines
Sakena Yacoobi Executive Director, Afghan Institute of Learning

Tell Obama:
“Women’s Rights are Non-Negotiable in Afghanistan”
Sign here


Artists Yoko Ono, Meryl Streep, Sting, Joan Baez, Cynthia Nixon and Patrick Stewart signed an Amnesty International Letter to Presidents Obama and Karzai on Afghan Women’s Rights.


The open letter was released Sunday to President Obama and President Karzai, calling on them to give women a voice in the conversation about Afghanistan’s future.

Joining the artists as signatories were authors, including Stephen King, Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) and playwright Lynn Nottage (Ruined, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark).

The letter was released by Amnesty International as it staged a “Shadow Summit for Afghan Women” hours before the NATO Summit got underway in Chicago.

Signatories included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, feminist Gloria Steinem, Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi, along with a roster of leading Afghan women’s rights advocates.

“The women of Afghanistan have come too far to see their rights vanish,” said Frank Januzzi, head of Amnesty International USA’s Washington office. “They must be part of the conversation about the future of Afghanistan or that future will look very bleak indeed. No one wants a return to the days when the Taliban banned women and girls from schools and work, and held them as virtual prisoners in their own country. This would be the ultimate catastrophe after a decade of gains for women. We hope the voices of these notable signatories will add to the pressure on Presidents Obama and Karzai to follow through on the promise of human rights for all women in Afghanistan.”

Amnesty International urged Presidents Obama and Karzai to adopt eight key steps to make sure Afghan woman can continue the progress they have made on rights and freedoms after the troops leave in 2014.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide.

Read the open letter:
Read the list of signatories:

Afghanistan Human Rights

Human Rights Concerns

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is home to 28.2 million people, a number which includes hundreds of thousands of refugees from various neighboring countries. The life expectancy is 42.9 years, under 5-mortality for both male and females is 223/237 per 1,000 and adult literacy is 28 per cent. Millions of people living in southern and eastern Afghanistan are terrorized by the Taleban, other insurgent groups, and local militias ostensibly allied with the government. People continue to suffer insecurity that further restricts their limited access to food, health care and schooling. While access to education has greatly improved since the years of Taleban rule and is now open to girls, many boys and girls still aren’t in school. Education however continues to shine a beacon of hope for many Afghans who would like to see their country move toward a more democratic and peaceful place to live.

Political Situation:

Since the late 1970s Afghanistan has experienced a continuous state of civil war punctuated by foreign occupations in the forms of the 1979 Soviet Invasion and the October 2001 invasion by the US that helped to overthrow the Taliban government. In December, 2001 the United Nations Security Council authorized the creation of an International Security Assistance Force (ISFA) to help maintain security and assist the Karzai Admininstration. The country is being rebuilt slowly with support from the international community and dealing with a strong Taleban presence. President Hamid Karzai won re-election in 2009 after a much disputed and controversial election process. Karzai’s main opponent decided not to participate in the run-off election. The Afghan government has been riddled by corruption and has failed to bring to protect and promote human rights. The inclusion of the warlords in this government, some of whom stand accused of horrible human rights crimes is creating wide-spread resentment among the Afghan people. The US under Pres. Obama has increased the size of its forces there by about 35,000 people, mostly to fight the insurgent Taliban in the south of the country. The news of negotiations between the Afghan government and members of the Taliban have worried many civil society groups in Afghanistan as well as many human rights organizations, esp. because they fear that bringing in so-called moderate Taliban may cause a set-back to the rights of women.

Human Rights Concerns:

In the review of 2009 by the Afghan-international Joint Co-ordination Monitoring Board (JCMB) acknowledged that progress in the area of human rights has been slow. There was and remains till this day insufficient civilian oversight of government security forces, law enforcement agencies, most notably the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. Afghan people lack confidence in the formal justice institutions. Cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission slows down the implementation and mainstreaming of human rights. Seventeen people were executed in 2008 and at least 111 others remain on death row. Afghanistan has voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions. Civilian casualties have risen since 2001 with 2008 the bloodiest year yet. Most of these deaths were at the hands of insurgents but in that same year 40 per cent of the casualties were due to operations by Afghan and international security forces. The US military has since taken serious steps to make sure civilians don’t sustain collateral damage by dramatically reducing both air strikes and nighttime raids. Women increasingly have participated in politics and public life but continue to suffer from high rates of domestic violence with little recourse to legal protection. The controversy surrounding President Karzai’s signing of a Shia Law restricting the rights of Shia women caused a major world-wide blow forcing president Karzai to review it. While access to education for girls and women have improved considerably since the Taliban were ousted, girls in rural areas continue to face intimidation, harassment, threats and attacks on them and their schools. Since 2002 Afghanistan has enjoyed a vibrant resurgence of press freedom but during the past three years unsettling reports have started coming in including the killing of Zakia Zaki, the female owner of a private radio station and the stabbing of another female journalist Nilofar Habibi who survived the attempt.

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Tell Obama:
“Women’s Rights are Non-Negotiable in Afghanistan”
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