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May 24, 2013

Notes from Afghanistan

by Rep. Susan A. Davis


If it’s Mother’s Day it must be Afghanistan. I was part of a bipartisan group of congressional women making an annual trip to Afghanistan over the Mother’s Day weekend, a tradition I initiated in 2009.  The focus of these trips is on the Afghan women who work daily to create a bright future for their country despite overwhelming obstacles, and on our U.S. servicemembers, especially the mothers who are serving and protecting us while away from their own families. 

I am usually asked why I am so drawn to the cause of Afghan women. I see parallels between the Afghan women and the trailblazing women from American history, as well as connections between U.S. servicewomen at the heart of our national security interests and the women of our nation who pushed their way into a political “no women's land.”

These annual visits allow us to get a sense of not only our own progress but that of the Afghan people. What did we find?  While we are moving towards a more stable future in Afghanistan, this movement is mixed with a very rational fear of a post 2014 world.

These trips are always packed with meetings over the course of the visit.  On Saturday, we had the opportunity to sit down with women from many aspects of Afghan life – business professionals, community leaders, future leaders, students at Herat University, and women serving in the Afghanistan National Security Forces. The status of women in Afghanistan is clearly in flux. There is a fear of rights being negotiated away yet a sense those dramatic gains for women and girls will not be lost.

Women will remain marginalized - even while having proven their ability to be actively engaged in the decision making process - unless they have outspoken champions of their centrality to a civil society. We heard that they now have "hope." Ten years ago they said, "My only hope was that my husband would not beat me up."

The key to a stable Afghanistan is directly tied to the role of women.  We must continue to look into resources and support for women.

What they and we have worked so hard to create seems to have had some real success although still insufficient to declare anything beyond “cautious optimism.”

The Afghan National Security Forces have met many goals while multiple police entities remain a work in progress. In a visit to the Afghan National Defense University, established with American support, we met with a small class of impressive young women cadets and their commanders.  While cultural issues complicate recruiting, the seeds of promise are evident as women enter the military and change public perception around the security and protection of women.

A critical element will be that of the 2014 presidential election and its legitimacy among all ethnic groups. As always, there are concerns over appropriate security for women to assist at polls and for women to vote. One of the suggestions we offered was to create a movement of university students to participate in the upcoming election.

Mother’s Day itself was spent with our troops.  They always provide a key insight that cannot be understood in a committee hearing.  It is an opportunity to see if they are getting the resources and support they need.  It is also a chance to say thank you and bring messages from home. In this case, it was messages of love and appreciation from Lemon Grove elementary students.  The day was capped with a dinner for female servicemembers, and mothers, who are unable to spend the day with their little ones.

The information learned from these trips is always critical to the decision we – as members of Congress – make on behalf of the American people.  In June there is a much–anticipated ceremony to formally turn over security to the Afghans.  American troops will continue to return home having seen significant changes to the region.  Everyone believes the war has gone on far too long.  However, if we can maintain the gains that have been made and the Afghans can build on their accomplishments, then the incredible work of our men and women in uniform, their civilian counterparts, and our international partners will change the course of history in the region. I am honored to see that happen and root for it becoming a reality.

This piece originally appeared in Uptown News.

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