THE BLOG
10/01/2014 02:41 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

The Women of Afghanistan Must Not Be Forgotten

The onslaught of radical Islamist militias such as Islamic State (IS, ISIS or ISIL) and Boko Haram highlights the failure of the UN and international community to recognize and prevent their proliferation. Preoccupation with the threat of IS also diverts attention from Afghanistan, where women fear a Taliban offensive after foreign troops leave at the end of the year.

A Human Rights Council report (HRC) in 2013 drew attention to the uncertain future for Afghan women and the danger of losing their hard-won gains of the past thirteen years.

There are certain UN mechanisms in place to further the process of support and engagement for all Afghan nationals and women, in particular.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has been extended and is likely to remain on the Security Council's agenda. Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan is also Head of UNAMA.

A new HRC mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), evaluates the human rights situation of all UN Member States every four and a half years and makes recommendations. Their report on Afghanistan earlier this year referred to progress made by women, who were employed in twenty-five per cent of government jobs, nine per cent at decision-making levels. Girls also represent about forty per cent of approximately nine million children attending school. The Penal Code was reportedly under review, as were laws pertaining to honour killing. However, considerable concern was expressed regarding ongoing violence against women and failure to effectively implement the Elimination of Violence against Women Law.

Afghanistan is a party to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and therefore subject to review of adherence to the protocol. Any technical assistance recommended by the Committee can be instigated with the support of the Afghan government.

Another mechanism, Justice Rapid Response can deploy international experts to investigate serious human rights violations and offer special assistance if requested by governments.

Between 1984 and 2005, there was a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. This position could be revived if the UN Security Council referred the security issue for Afghan women and girls to the UNHRC, with a request for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur dedicated to Afghanistan.

Reports by the UN bodies involved are only useful if the government concerned requests assistance and implements the recommendations. Hampered by a presidential election that was deadlocked for months, the Afghan government has not been forthcoming on requests.

Extremists in Afghanistan are part of a wider problem of paramilitaries propelled by social media and linked by common cause to persecute Muslim and non-Muslim 'unbelievers,' enforce extremist religious ideology and practice, and establish a global Islamic caliphate.

Women are the first to suffer from the jihad through sexual slavery, rape, forced marriage, stoning for adultery, and lashings for venturing out without Islamic clothing or a male relative as chaperone.

In the age of mushrooming jihadist militias in a politically dysfunctional region, UN mechanisms to promote human rights are inadequate in the face of groups such as IS and the Taliban. Mechanisms that depend primarily on nation-to-nation appeals in the UN are also deficient, as are those that ignore the influence of ideology. Islamist militias cannot be defeated by military means alone, although the pledge by the new Afghan government to allow some US troops to remain after 2014 could assist the army, whose strength to neutralise extremists is questionable.

Ways must be found to induce government authorities to support women's rights via the appropriate UN mechanisms, as these cannot succeed without government involvement and assistance. Such measures are important in the long term but there is currently considerable urgency due to intensifying violence as the drawdown of combat troops proceeds.

The new Afghan government should also be cautioned about making the sort of political deals with Islamists done in the past at the expense of women's freedom.

Although strong on rhetoric, the UN record concerning protection of women against Islamist violence is unimpressive. The Security Council is the only UN body with real teeth and the best available UN tool to take a lead in safeguarding the security of Afghanistan's women with a resolution that supports their security and recognizes the jihadist threat.

A marauding misogynist Taliban in the style of Islamic State is not a fantasy, and the Security Council could envision such an outcome with a resolution that would surely garner a wide consensus of support.