The United States was quick to recognize that empowering women in Afghanistan was in our national security interest. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council was created as a presidential initiative under President George W. Bush. This joint U.S.-Afghan effort promotes public-private partnerships and mobilizes resources to ensure that Afghan women gain the skills and stability the Taliban had denied them.
The council supports a variety of programs such as education and literacy, self-sufficiency, business education, health care, relief and support, and leadership. Members utilize their networks to empower Afghan women and create collaborations between them and American companies, educational institutions and foundations. Partners include Goldman Sachs, Kate Spade New York and Daimler Chrysler, along with many U.S. universities and other educational institutions.
To date, thousands of Afghan women have been mentored, educated and assisted in so many different ways.
The council was thriving, at least until recent events. It was an example to the world of our strong commitment to the women of Afghanistan. But what does it mean now?
In a statement last week, Bush and former first lady Laura Bush underscored their commitment to Afghan women and shared the brave sentiments of Dr. Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning, which has opened schools for girls and women around the nation. Yacoobi wrote, “While we are afraid, we are not defeated. … Ideas do not disappear so easily. One cannot kill whispers on the wind. The Taliban cannot crush a dream. We will prevail, even if it takes longer than we wanted it to.”
The United States has long recognized the critical importance of empowering women so that societies can be more stable, transparent and less likely to pose a threat to our national security. In 2017, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., authored the Women, Peace and Security Act (signed into law by President Donald Trump) to ensure that the U.S. serves as a global leader in promoting the participation of women in conflict prevention, management and post-conflict relief efforts.
This law recognizes that including women in conflict prevention and resolution will promote more inclusive and democratic societies, and country and regional stability. Data shows that when women are at the table for peace negotiations and conflict resolution, those plans are 35 percent more likely to succeed.
It is within the national interest of the United States to ensure the participation of women. But what does it mean now?
Last week, a group of senators sent a letter to the Biden-Harris administration urging them to take swift and robust action to protect and support Afghan female leaders facing extreme danger after the Taliban took control of the country.
The letter urged the creation of a humanitarian parole category in our immigration system specifically for female leaders, activists, human rights defenders, parliamentarians, journalists and members of the Female Tactical Platoon of the Afghan Special Security Forces. It also urged the streamlining of the paperwork process to allow for faster, humane and efficient relocation to the United States. It referenced how important it is to increase processing capacity within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and to appoint an interagency refugee coordinator. Why weren’t these protective measures put in place before the administration began this disastrous withdrawal?
Our nation’s first female vice president has yet to comment on the horror faced by Afghan women. After the president ordered troops withdrawn in April, Kamala Harris claimed she was the last one in the room before Joe Biden made his decision and said she felt comfortable with the plan. What does she think now?
Maybe Harris should heed her own advice and remember something she has often said: “In times like this, silence is complicity.” She should not remain silent any longer and has a duty to act.
This administration needs to mitigate the damage that has been done and prioritize safe passage for these Afghan women. A failure to do so would mean abandoning not just these women but our position as a global leader in women’s rights.
Andrea Bottner is senior advisor at the Independent Women’s Forum and the founder of Bottner Strategies. She previously worked on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration, including as director of the State Department’s Office of International Women’s Issues.