Conflict & Justice

Rights groups converge on Chicago for NATO summit


Chicago mounted police officers watch over a protest taking place in the Federal Building Plaza May 16, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. It was the third straight day of protests in what is expected to be a full week of demonstrations as Chicago prepares to host the NATO Summit May 20-21


Scott Olson

Women in Afghanistan must be at the top of the agenda at this weekend's NATO summit, say a number of varied groups, all convinced that the safety of women is the key to Afghanistan's success. 

Chicago promises to be abuzz this weekend as the summit meant to focus on the future of Afghanistan's security gets underway. Heads of state from the 28 NATO countries, as well as the presidents of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are expected at the first NATO meeting in North American in over a decade. The agenda is set to include issues such as the transition of power to Afghan forces and how continued support to the region might manifest.

However, recent attacks on girls' schools, honor killings and the continued use of baad (where women are traded to settle disputes in tribal regions) have not abated in Afghanistan. Human rights groups, as well as individuals from international organizations, are gearing up to make their disappointment with NATO known, and this summit is especially of interest for rights organizations because women's issues, specifically, aren't on the official agenda – although poppy harvest and distribution is. 

"Now is the time to deal with the longer-term security and protection needs of Afghan women who have long borne the brunt of the war in Afghanistan," said Jan Kubis, special representative for the UN secretary general in Afghanistan, in a statement released earlier this week. "Women's specific protection needs should be central to plans being made as the Afghan national army and police prepare to take an increasing lead in security operations."

Amnesty International is hosting a "Shadow Summit" to promote women's rights as a top priority, and protest the lack of female Afghan voices at the table when NATO makes decisions that will impact women in the county. 

Sunday's Shadow Summit will include Afifa Azima, executive director of the Afghan Women's Network, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and "Afghan women seeking to have their voices heard as their futures are decided." The three-hour meeting is free and open to the public and will end with a kite flying action to call attention to the issue.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed Amnesty's concerns during a congressional visit to Afghanistan last week, which included only women representatives. The bipartisan delegation was in Helmand for Mother's Day and Pelosi released a statement detailing her insistence to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that women must be on the NATO agenda at this weekend's summit. 

"Sunday marked the third phase of the transfer of lead security responsibility to the Afghan forces," Leader Pelosi said. "On every occasion, our delegation stressed the importance of Afghan women being involved in security decisions, especially in light of the upcoming NATO summits."

But congresswomen and mainstream groups like Amnesty aren't the only ones flooding Chicago to protest NATO's lack of attention on the plight of Afghan women. 

Feminist activism group Code Pink will also be in attendance in Chicago and has allied with Occupy Chicago for a series of actions, including marches, rallies and counter-summits.

Although many of these groups reject NATO's involvement in Afghanistan in the first place, it's widely believed that when allied forces leave Afghanistan, women will suffer considerably. 

"The moment United States troops leave, we risk being plunged back into the darkness of Taliban rule or even a civil war," wrote (female) Afghan presidential candidate Fawzia Koofi in a recent New York Times op-ed. "...If the West abandons Afghanistan once again our country will become a playground for global terrorism and a risk to the world."

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of women's rights in Afghanistan, check out our Special Report Life Sentence: Women and Justice in Afghanistan.