March 8 marks the 105th celebration of International Women's Day, but women in Afghanistan have little to celebrate as the U.S. prepares to draw down its military presence.
Across the country, extremists have become increasingly vocal in their efforts to roll back hard-fought gains for women and girls following the Taliban's removal from power.
Female representation in parliament is down. Brutal attacks on women and girls are up. And extremists are growing increasingly bold in their efforts to once more mandate the oppression of women and girls into Afghan law.
One of the signature achievements of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan has been advancing and protecting the rights of women and girls. Millions of girls have gone to school. Newly empowered women joined the police and military.
That these gains have proven so fragile is tragic and disheartening to all who have worked vehemently to help.
While the Taliban held power, women were routinely confined to their homes and girls were denied access to education. Women could be stoned at the accusation of adultery or for other perceived insults where a man felt dishonored.
Unfortunately, as the U.S. military presence has begun to recede, anti-women extremists have grown increasingly influential. This is a frightening prospect for the millions of women and girls who have moved forward and begun to make plans for their lives.
Most recently, both houses of parliament passed a change in the criminal code that would have shielded domestic abusers from testimony by daughters, spouses and other relatives. President Hamid Karzai rejected the legislation on February 17, but only after immense pressure from Afghan women's champions and the international community.
This International Women's Day, while we celebrate our many accomplishments and discuss new paths forward, let's not forget the women of Afghanistan. They are strong, and they will continue to make their voices heard. The international community -- and especially the United States--can still levy pressure against extremists.
A good step in the right direction would be congressional passage of the International Violence Against Women Act and the Women, Peace, and Security Act. Both bills are bipartisan, and both would encourage greater participation by women through amplifying their voices in the political and diplomatic process.
No single step will stop a backslide to the days of Taliban rule. But, now more than ever, we must commit to the future of Afghanistan's women and girls.
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