NATO’s primary goal in Afghanistan was to make sure that the authorities could safely protect the country and to ensure that it never became a safe haven for extremists or terrorists. At the end of 2014 there is a possibility of full security responsibility being transferred back to Afghanistan, as NATO’s official mission in the country ends. Former Afghan President Karzai refused to sign agreements that would keep some foreign US and NATO troops in the country, even though terrorist activities were very prominent in the past year. After a year of fraudulent election issues, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was declared the winner of the election and the new president of Afghanistan in Setptember. But, Ghani Ahmadzai has agreed to share the power with the second place finisher Abdullah Abdullah, by making him the chief executive following the inauguration. Although these men have agreed to sign the document keeping some foreign troops (about 15,000) in the area, they are taking over a country that is still threatened by Islamic extremism, is economically depressed, and also politically corrupt.
As NATO’s main combat mission draws to a close, it seemed like it would be the women who would suffer the most. Even with all of Afghanistan’s conflicts, the situation for women has improved. Things have improved because brave women went to school, tried to get jobs, and stepped up. They were able to do this because international involvement gave them the space and resources to do so. They had support and backing. So if NATO leaves Afghanistan at the end of the year like it plans to, will the government respect women’s rights? Will the fight continue? About a month ago, it looked like the answer to that question was no. But Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah have articulated their commitment to the continuation of women’s rights even as international involvement lessens. Ghani Ahmadzai pledged in his victory speech to not only include women in his government but to encourage them to take prominent roles. He said he genuinely believes that their involvement is important for the success of the country in the future, adding that he would love to see a woman elected to the Supreme Court, a position that no Afghan woman has ever held. As he emphasized his commitment to their equal rights in society and government he said, “In the faces of these girls I can see future Afghan leaders.”
In this election, a much larger number of women voted, and Ghani Ahmadzai was preferred by women because he was seen as Western educated and knowledgeable about the country’s affairs. Not only that, but he let his wife address crowds at his rallies, something that really resonated with Afghan women seeking a political voice. Despite the larger turnout of women voters, many women simply voted how their husbands voted out of custom. In the conservative (and sometimes more violent) parts of the country, men illegally cast proxy votes and voted for the women of their families. Also in the more conservative parts of the country, many women didn’t vote because of the possible violent repercussions of their actions. Still, this was a very historic election. It was the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, and women were very vocal and visible in the urban areas.
Ghani Ahmadzi seems to genuinely support women’s rights and what they can do for the country. NATO might be leaving, but it doesn’t mean that the push for gender equality in Afghanistan needs to come to an end.