The reality is light years from pledges and public statements made by high-ranking Afghan and American officials.

The fate of women in Afghanistan has been the moral linchpin for the continued occupation by U.S. and NATO forces since the presidency of George W. Bush. But according to experts and women across the war-torn country, little has changed for women there despite upwards of $1.5 billion spent to empower women and girls.

Instead, a deeply misogynist culture and ruling class endure in spite of ongoing pledges from political leaders to Western audiences promising progress. Instead, whenever violence worsens, the government’s tepid efforts to pressure social conservatives to respect rights and expand opportunities for women are set aside as military alliances and political responses take precedence.

This is not to say that more than a decade of work by social reformers inside and outside the country have come to naught, but it shows how deeply entrenched cultural and political resistance remain. The West has helped Afghanistan to expand and improve maternal health care, as well as open up schools that girls can attend in urban and rural areas. But as Nimmi Gowrinathan, a visiting professor at City College in New York, said of educating girls, “That’s the reality until the sixth grade, when they get married.”

 

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