U.N. Officer Discusses Plight of Afghan Women at Kennedy School Talk

January 6, 2003
Doug Gavel

As an advocate of peace, Rina Amiri, then a research associate with the Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP), was initially opposed the bombing of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. Now, as a political affairs officer working with the United Nations, she admits the bombing was "critical" in destroying the Taliban and restoring hope in her native country. Amiri shared her thoughts with former colleagues, students and reporters during a talk Monday at the Kennedy School.
"I don't think there is any single image that completely reflects the level of destruction of the country," Amiri said. That destruction, caused by more than 20 years of war, left a nation in ruins. Yet, according to Amiri, the reconstruction that has already taken place in Afghanistan has given rise to an "immense amount of excitement and optimism that is unprecedented over the past 30 years."
Amiri's work on the ground focuses on human rights investigations. Women, she says, still remain second-class citizens in most rural parts of the country, where most people live and progress remains slow. "Every step that we take, we take two steps backwards in women's rights," she says. "There is a strong tide of conservatism that is pushing back the process of promoting women's rights."
Women did play an active role in the Loya Jirga, the traditional Afghan Grand Council formulated to elect a new president last year, and many women have also returned to work in most of the major cities. But in rural areas, where women are limited to vocations like sewing, selling handicrafts and carpet-weaving, major problems remain. "We don't have any health clinics in many parts of the country," she said. "We need resources, medicines, instruments, and these things are not there."
In the longer term, Amiri stated, women leaders in Afghanistan are pressing forward with a wider agenda of basic rights - political, economic, education, and health care. Disarming the nation's many military factions and empowering the central government must also be top priorities, she said, to promote stability and social welfare. "For a truly democratic process to take place, you need a thriving civil society," she said. "And the role of women has come to symbolize nothing less than how a society hopes to see itself."
Amiri's talk was sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and the Women and Public Policy Program

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