As many as 150 schoolgirls in Afghanistan were sickened by poisoning at their high school yesterday, Reuters reports. The attack is being blamed on radicals opposed to women's rights and education. It's a stark reminder that after more than a decade long hearts-and-minds campaign, human rights is not a welcome ideal by all.
At the center of that campaign stands Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She made women's rights there a priority even before 2001 and long before she could wield power as head of the U.S. State Department. But with the American troop withdrawal hastening toward her, any gains for the women of Afghanistan are threatened severely.
Just last month, a leading group of clerics issued an edict that's been described as a "greenlight for Talibanization," according to The Guardian. It said women are subordinate to men, should not mingle with them in the workplace or schools, and cannot travel without a male chaperone. Afghani President Hamid Karzai's office detailed the edict in a statement without comment. Critics of Karzai call that tacit approval. Still, Afghanistan and its leadership want a continuing partnership – and money – from the United States.
A formal pact is expected to be signed between the two countries at a NATO conference in Chicago next month. Will women leaders have a seat at the table there? Speaking to the U.S.-Afghan women's Council in Washington this month, Clinton said, "Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all."
Can U.S. aid be tied to progress for women? How would that progress be measured? More than two million girls and women are in Afghanistan schools – is there enough public will in the country to keep them there? Will Clinton's legacy be damaged otherwise?
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, set in Afghanistan
Caroline Wadhams, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, focusing on Afghanistan, Pakistan, terrorism issues, and U.S. national security; former legislative assistant on foreign policy issues for Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI); U.S. election observer in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections in September 2010.