Wazhma Frogh and women’s rights in Afghanistan

Goodness, there has been a lot said on the subject that women’s rights as a narrative for war is absurd, hypocritical and wrong, notably when it is uttered by the US or UK.

I feel duty bound to seek answers from those who have raised this issue – Earwicga, The Atlantic, Max Dunbar, HM, Laurie and many more – how do you respond to the following by Wazhma Frogh.

Frogh is a gender and development specialist and human rights activist and recipient of the 2009 International Woman of Courage Award Afghanistan – she’s not short of a few things to say about women’s rights, human rights and the war in Afghanistan.

Indeed, she tore up the “usual human rights” notebook for her interview with Warwick University – where she is doing her Master’s degree – in January of this year.

While talking about human rights, women’s rights and the future of her country (here – mp3 file) the question emerged: What is life like for women in Afghanistan at the moment?

To which Frogh answered:

Things have changed for them for the better in the last 8 years. As one of our MPs, a female MP … she said the past 8 years have been like golden years for the women of Afghanistan and that’s true; that the achievements that we’ve had are incredible.

In terms of the parliament for example we have  27 persons of women in the parliament. This is a big achievement, of course it is because of the quota, of women’s presence in the parliament, we have a ministry of women’s affairs and women in the urban areas … so the international presence has earned some credit over all of this, for women in parliament in Afghanistan.

But at the same time life has not changed for the women in the rural areas and it’s .. important to understand it, that there problems are not born yesterday, they have had these problems for hundreds of years, so they cannot be solved in 8 years.

However, one that was also kind of challenging was the lack of strategic spencidng of the international aid that comes to Afghanistan; it lacked community ownership in most of the times for example – for most of the time a community should have received the funds and it was a private company for example, a private international company because they had to comply with the international standards of importing.

The international aid is a bit controversial on the part of Afghans who do not believe life has changed.

The past 8 years have brought us a lot of achievements for women’s rights but within the urban cities. But at the same time, no matter how critical I am of the development, I would say that the past 8 years have been really the golden years for the women of Afghanistan, and credit should go to the international funders and donors of Afghanistan; the US, UK are the biggest donors [of] the communities; and that’s what I want to bring to the notice of the public


I didn’t know about it, the way the UK public is questioning the war in Afghanistan, the way they are questioning the presence of their troops. I think if I was a UK citizen, I would have been proud of my troops to be able to go to a country where women’s rights – I know that for example a UK troop has no responsibility to help women of my country, but they are fighting a war that is not a war of this country itself, like the London bombings we know came up because of the Taliban and al-Qaeda that are linked there, and the September 11 attacks, the Madrid attacks, so of course …the terror that has taken root on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan is not only our problem, it is very much a global problem, so I think as UK citizens they have to be proud of their soldiers, they have to be proud of their sons and daughters who are out there serving for such a cause that they are not only out there saving their own country, but … they’re helping the human rights of another country’s people and that is what I wanted to bring to the UK, that sort of voice.

The women’s rights narrative from the US/UK may be tinged with a modicom of hypocrisy, fine, but this doesn’t make it an illegitmate reason to support the ongoing state army building exercise, currently operating in Afghanistan against a global force intent on setting us all back a 1000 years.

Update: and here


8 Responses to Wazhma Frogh and women’s rights in Afghanistan

  1. earwicga says:

    a modicom of hypocrisy

    Are you fucking joking?

    Have you any idea what is actually happening in Afghanistan? Any idea what it is like to live in a war zone? Have you read Malalai Joya’s book? Have you read The Guantanamo Files?

    A modicum? Unfuckingbelivable!

  2. earwicga says:

    Furthermore, I don’t know why you have linked the AtlanticWire (not the Atlantic) article as it is a regurgatation of James Fergusson’s article here, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/15/james-fergusson-afghanistan-women-west, which contains some things I agree with and some I disagree with.

    Another book you really need to read is Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep by Siba Shakib.

    Laurie Penny’s article was excellent.

    • you’re a very good person – but you constantly downplay my intelligence (have you read this, have you read that) I think you breathe hot air to mask your own lack of intellectual fire, but I suppose your inability to properly debate me, ignore my comments on your website, ignore my comments on pickled politics, ignore my tweets, is testament to this, right?

  3. Sarah Louise says:

    Thanks for this contribution. It takes the discussion forward. The point is that advances in women’s rights are the outcome of struggle, in the metropoles as much as in the periphery (for want of better terms). They are never uncontested. The outcomes are contingent upon the particular balance of forces at the time. In Iraq for instance the “coalition of the willing” (comprising several NATO elements) had a generally regressive effect on women’s rights, which were relatively highly developed under Sadam. War is not a feminist enterprise, nor is an army a feminist entity, NATO did not go to Afghanistan to liberate women. Nevertheless its presence has generated opportunities that women can seize. But NATO commanders and western donors will advance women’s interests ONLY to the extent that (a) it would be difficult to do otherwise in view of the perceptions of their constituencies at home; (b) it will advance their main goals, and (c) it is feasible within the bounds of these goals. There may be advocates/allies of women among NATO and donor personnel, who may be able to maximise opportunties for women, but on the whole they will be constrained within the predominant attitudes and priorities of the military/donor community. There was a huge struggle before the Bonn conference, including between women’s advocates and senior decison-makers in the donor hierachies, to ensure that a women’s ministry would be put in place, and it is a continuing struggle with donors to ensure that sufficient money is made available and that it is supported adequately. Given the level of development of women’s rights in Europe and the US, and the level of debate there, it would not be possible for NATO to do nothing for Afghan women, But we should remember that the west didn’t raise a hand to support them during the 90s after the Taliban took over even while imposing unjust sanctions on Iraq not so far away which had huge negative impacts on all, but especially on women & children, hardly mitigated by the oil-for food programme. It is excellent that urban women in Afghanistan have been able to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by the invasion, and in many cases to maximise and build upon them. It is also true that there would be need for major re-thinking and retrenchment if NATO is defeated. Meanwhile is the responsibility of us in the NATO countries to exert maximum influence on our governments so that while NATO remains in Afghanistan opportunities for women are opened up to the maximum extent possible, in accordance with the demands and priorities expressed by Afghan women themselves, and that sustainable mechanisms for consultation with women are institutionalised as much as possible.

    • eloquently put Sarah, I think you hold a very astute opinion on the matter – it would be very difficult for me to match it, but let me tell you, I buy into much of what you are saying.

      And I think it captures some crossover in the thinking between those who I cite and my own thinking on the matter; yes of course the “west” has not gotten it right on all issues and strategies, and so right are those critics, some of whom I cite in my entry, who say the “west” act as hypocrites in Afghanistan – but the point goes beyond what individuals think, the project in Afghanistn is an epochal one, one which had to be solved one day by somebody. The left fear that a neocon instigated it (I argue otherwise, Islamofascism instigated it); but the war itself is not neoconservative; it could have been instigated by a socialist, it still remains a war against fascism from the point of liberty – to be sure, why should liberty only be enjoyed in the “west” – I ask myself – the project is a just one, but justice is a tough job and takes tough minds to recongise it, but, yet, when has justice ever come easily?

  4. earwicga says:

    Well, have you read them? Btw, recommending books isn’t a ‘downplay’ or any comment on a person’s intelligence. I’m sorry that you equate it that way but of course that is your prerogative. Interesting though.

    I don’t see that there is anything to debate with you Carl. I think you are very ignorant on this matter and I have absolutely no desire to debate you. There is nothing black and white about it, but you are starting from a position that is a lie. There is very little room for you to progress from there.

    • I find that totally without foundation – it offends me for you to say there is nothing to debate with me, I disagree with you, I think you represent a type of leftism that has closed its ears to rationality and opened them up to the enemies’ enemy. I think the sooner we have a debate – as I’ve said over at Louise’s blog – the sooner we’ll realise we’re madly in love with each other.

  5. Siba Shakib looks interesting. I see she’s worked as adviser to NATO’s ISAF troops.

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