NATO, Don't Forget Afghan Women

The Obama administration is set to begin a status review of its operations in Afghanistan next month, and in Lisbon this weekend, NATO leaders will meet to discuss the war.

Too often, these official reviews and strategy negotiations have left Afghan women out. This time, we hope it will be different.

If Afghan women and girls are forgotten, not only will they lose their best chance for freedom and for their future, but the world will lose its best chance for restoring a peaceful, stable society in Afghanistan.

Afghan women and girls have been the canaries in the coal mine. We ignore them at our own peril.

Against great odds--30 years of war, gender apartheid under the Taliban, ongoing exclusion from peace talks--Afghan women are striving to reclaim their role in Afghan society and rebuild their nation. Ms. magazine reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon recently returned from Afghanistan and tells the compelling stories of these women in the fall issue of Ms. They deserve the world's attention:

  • A woman in her 20s opened a construction firm to literally rebuild the nation.
  • A woman in Kabul owns a successful clothing shop and manufactures her products with the help of Bpeace, a New York-based nonprofit, liberating her family from poverty and adding a building block to the nation's economy.
  • Women are joining the ranks of the Afghan army officers' corps and the Afghan police.
  • They are training to be midwives in an unprecedented effort to knock down one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
  • And Afghan women leaders continue to demand a seat for women at the decision-making tables. "We want to be policy makers; we don't want to be symbolic presences," says Suraya Pakzad, director of Voice of Women, an organization dedicated to Afghan women's political involvement.

In Lisbon, we expect to hear a debate about how and when to end NATO operations in Afghanistan. Whatever the debate, there can be no stable Afghanistan without the empowerment and involvement of the country's women and girls.

For more on the central role of Afghan women in building a stable and peaceful nation, read an excerpt of Gayle Tzemach Lemmon's piece at