Susan Shaer: A Mother’s Day message
It is different elsewhere in the world. In Afghanistan, women and girls are caught in the crossfire of war. A recent article from CNN said, “At least 140 Afghan schoolgirls and female teachers were admitted to a local hospital … after drinking poisoned water,” after local health officials in Kabul, Afghanistan reported the incident and “blamed the act on extremists opposed to women’s education.” The people responsible for this are doing what they can to ensure that Afghan women and girls cannot feel safe or secure in their own communities. Unfortunately this targeting of women and their fundamental rights is all too common during war.
When the Obama administration issued the National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security, it acknowledged that women are uniquely victimized by war with sexual violence and incidents like the poisoning in Afghanistan. But the National Action Plan also recognizes this empowering truth: “Deadly conflicts can be more effectively avoided, and peace best forged and sustained, when women become equal partners in all aspects of peace-building and conflict prevention, when their lives are protected, their experiences considered, and their voices heard.” In Afghanistan, and elsewhere, women must be at the table when discussing peacemaking and postwar recovery.
Along with a majority of the American people, I hope that our combat troops will begin to leave Afghanistan soon. At, the same time, we need to make sure U.S. engagement with Afghanistan does not end. Instead, the United States should focus attention and resources on helping Afghanistan to build a sustainable peace. As we withdraw U.S. combat troops, we should leverage leadership and seize opportunities to strengthen support for development and cultivation of civil society. We have unique power to encourage and support Afghan women’s participation in reconciliation and reintegration activities. We need to shift from trying to impose military solutions with drone strikes and night raids, to developing real political solutions.
It was Boston resident Julia Ward Howe who first tied Mother’s Day to women taking action for peace in her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” of 1870. “In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held … To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions, The great and general interests of peace.”
The costs of war are too high – a truth that is not new. In that same proclamation, Howe wrote, “‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.” More than 140 years ago, we knew that violence and war were not the answer to conflicts, yet they continue to wreak havoc on the lives of women everywhere.
This Mother’s Day, let us support and empower the women and mothers in Afghanistan, who are trying to do what is necessary to create a safe and peaceful environment, and sincerely need our help. It is these women who are the ones left to deal with the aftermath of war. Who are the ones responsible for rebuilding families and communities without crucial resources. Who are the victims of war crimes that go undocumented and unrecognized because they are not able to report them without risking more harm. Who live under threats of violence every day.
I call on the women and mothers of America, as Howe did: “Arise, all women who have hearts.” It is up to us to let the leaders of our nation hear our voices on behalf of those Afghan women who cannot speak out. We must not leave these women and mothers to fend for themselves in an unsafe environment. We need to support these women and mothers. We must help them gain security to allow for sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
Our troops may be coming home, but the plan for a peaceful transition in Afghanistan is still up to us.
Susan Shaer is the executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) and cofounder of Win Without War.