Our Executive Director Teresa Casale recently sat down with the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan and reiterate the importance of listening to Afghan women. This message rings especially true today, on World Refugee Day, when we’re called on to recognize the strength and courage of refugees around the world.
The WRC is a non-profit organization that helps protect and empower vulnerable refugees globally. When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August, the WRC and Mina’s List came together to help support Afghan women MPs, community leaders, and human rights defenders (HRDs) – all of whom suddenly found themselves at risk of violence and retribution from the Taliban due to their public work advancing women’s rights.
For the millions of women and girls who remain in Afghanistan, the situation is dire. On top of a crumbling economy, escalating food insecurity, and a humanitarian crisis of unparalleled proportions, Afghan women have seen their basic rights stripped away by a resurgent Taliban regime.
Such hardship is not an inevitable consequence of U.S. withdrawal. As Ms. Casale explained, the suffering of Afghan women and girls could have been avoided if the U.S. government had prioritized their concerns when negotiating peace talks between the Taliban and the former Afghan government:
“Because we didn’t listen to [Afghan women]; because their concerns weren’t mainstreamed into policy, we have a situation now where they're bearing the brunt.”
Indeed, despite pledging to “promote the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes” in its 2017 Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act, the U.S. government failed to elevate Afghan women’s voices when it mattered most, leaving them at the mercy of the Taliban’s inhumane leadership when the group captured Kabul on August 15th, 2021.
Since then, organizations like the WRC and Mina’s List have worked tirelessly to put Women, Peace, and Security back on the U.S. policy agenda. As Ms. Casale noted, it was these efforts that helped usher in the appointment of Rina Amiri as U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights: “Our coalition… really helped push for the creation of that position, and made sure that it was going to be somebody who is really informed on what Afghan women and girls need… Special Envoy Amiri is Afghan herself and has been a refugee in the past, and continues to work in the international field on all of these issues.”
The appointment of Ms. Amiri is an important step, but more must be done. Life for women and girls in Afghanistan is not getting any easier, and as the Taliban continues to impose restrictions on women’s basic rights to education, employment, and freedom of movement, policymakers must re-commit to upholding WPS principles.
By turning a blind to eye to the plight of Afghan women, Ms. Casale warned, the U.S. government sets a dangerous precedent of non-interference in instances when women’s rights are taken away, thereby “send[ing] a message to other oppressive regimes that they can get away with similar things.”
To avoid setting such a dangerous precedent, the U.S. and the international community must act now to prioritize Afghan women and their safe resettlement. As the media spotlight shifts to other conflicts where people are being forced to leave their homes, the need to advocate for Afghan women, and Afghan women refugees in particular, has never been more critical. Mina’s List will continue to do just that, as Ms. Casale concluded:
“[Afghan women] faced the Taliban down in the ‘90s and they’re doing it again now. If they haven’t given up, then I’m not going to give up. Nobody at Mina’s List is going to give up. And none of their international allies around the world are going to give up.”
Watch the full video interview here.