Liveblogging the House Hearing on Securing Afghan Women’s Gains Post-2014

Mr. John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) –

1:10pm – Despite strong gains, gender inequality remains severe in Afghanistan. 50% of marriages in Afghanistan are still child marriages.

SIGAR is still concerned about the prospect for women and girls in Afghanistan after US forces withdraw in 2014.

1:11pm: Sopko details challenges that face oversight of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Simply put, oversight is weak. The EU now spends more energy on fighting corruption than training the ANSF.

Sopko encourages the committee to “condition” future aid on assurances for women’s rights.

1:14pm: Ms. Michelle Barsa, Senior Manager for Policy, Inclusive Security Action, takes the stand.

Democracy promotion: Female voter registration stations remain closed in absence of enough female security personnel.

Gender-Based Violence: As many as 87% of women face some type of domestic abuse in their lifetime. When they report incidents to the police, they are often blamed for the abuse or abused again by the police.

ANSF Recruitment: Women report being heckled, turned away from recruiting stations, or asked to perform sexual favors in return of recruitment.

1:18pm: Efforts to integrate and retain women in the ANSF needs to be integrated into existing efforts and funding structures. The focus needs to be on creating a safe environment.

“It’s important to remember that women weren’t handed progress. They fought for it.”

1:19pm: Dr. Kenneth Katzman, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, Congressional Research Service –

Dr. Katzman focuses on some of the setbacks that women have faced since the resurgence of the Taliban in 2006.

Katzman lays out four scenarios:

Relative stability: The US might keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan with another 5,000 troops from partner nations. The Afghan government will “not collapse” under this reasonably likely scenario. If security gains hold, women’s rights will avoid a dramatic decline.

Worst-Case Scenario: If the ANSF collapses and the Taliban recapture control of much of Afghanistan, we can expect many of the former restrictions on women’s rights to be reinstated.

Most Likely Scenario: The influence of faction leaders is likely to increase after 2014. These leaders are already starting to recall some of their former militiamen. Many, like Ismail Khan, are very strict Islamists. They tend to enforce arbitrary rule. The resulting “Mujahideen culture” will be better than Taliban rule but not good for women overall.

Taliban Settlement: It’s possible that some Talibs can be convinced to enter the Afghan government. They would seek to impose Sharia, resulting in a different sort of middle ground scenario.

Bottom Line: Most feasible outcomes imply a rollback of women’s rights, including their right to life.

1:28pm – Rep. Martha Roby (AL), is the chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. She’s inquiring to Sopko to explain his plan for verifying women’s rights conditions that are imposed on aid to Afghanistan.

Sopko notes that 70% of the Afghan population lives in rural areas where mobility is likely to be limited or nonexistent for US government personnel after 2014.

1:32pm – Rep. Niki Tsongas (MA), is the Ranking Member. Women hold the top leadership positions on both aisles of the Subcommittee.

Rep. Tsongas asks the panel how to verify that the ANSF is recruiting and protecting women.

Ms. Barsa: Dedicate financial resources to recruitment and retention. This money will need strong safeguards.

Diplomatic pressure carries a lot of weight in the Afghan ministries.

ANSF leaders should be evaluated on their adherence to a gender-sensitive code of conduct.

Programs that advance the gender-sensitive capacity of the Afghan National Police (ANP) are also promising. It’s unclear whether the relevant funding for law and order programs will continue at current levels after 2014.

Mr. Sopko: We don’t have much pull over what happens in Afghanistan, though what we do have is the money. The most dangerous outcome, though, is if a security collapse threatens our ability to perform oversight.

1:38pm – Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina (R), notes that “the American people are sick and tired” of the government’s inability to account for funding to Afghanistan. He asks rhetorically where the breaking point is. No sign yet of a direct question to the panel. He “hopes” that the panel will be honest with the Congress and say that we are putting money into a black hole with no end in sight.

Mr. Sopko is treading a careful line here. He relates his concern as a taxpayer while insisting that his proper role as an Inspector General is to evaluate process, not policy. To combine the two undermines his neutrality as an overseer of ongoing projects.

1:42pm – Rep. Robert Andrews, New Jersey (D) – Rep. Andrews relates some of the more positive statistics: Women’s life expectancy has risen since the US invasion in 2001.

Rep. Andrews notes that the best-case scenario of the status quo is pretty grim. He asks in which institution the US has had the greatest positive impact for the sake of reinforcing that progress.

Dr. Katzman replies that several women have been successful in Afghan government. He mentions Malalai Joya, author of A Woman Among Warlords (though Malalai was eventually forced to leave Afghanistan). But if security goes south, there’s not much we can do for women.

1:48pm – Chairwoman Roby asks for some elaboration on the importance of female participation in the next election for the outcome of women.

Dr. Katzman notes that the election will feature a range of candidates from Ahmad Rasul, a Western-educated modernizer, and a Saudi-backed conservative who is unlikely to protect women’s rights.

1:51pm – Dr. Katzman invokes the term “civil war” to describe what some security analysts predict might happen after US forces withdraw.

1:52pm – Chairwoman Roby asks Ms. Barsa if women have gained enough power that their momentum is self-sustainable or if they’ll be pushed back into the corner.

Ms. Barsa asserts that there’s no simple answer. While women are struggling at the national level, they are playing a vital role in provincial peace negotiations. In Kandahar, one woman was nominated to be deputy head of negotiations.

1:55pm – Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois (D), asks how to assure coordination between USAID and State Department efforts. Mr. Sopko’s answer isn’t especially optimistic. Departments don’t talk to each other or our allies as much as they need to.

Rep. Duckworth then asks Ms. Barsa about the gender efforts of US allies. Ms. Barsa notes that the Dutch are funding gender inclusion and sensitivity for ANP.

Ms. Barsa asserts that there’s “huge potential” for lessons learned from gender sensitivity training in Islamic nations like Malaysia and Indonesia. Dr. Katzman offers Turkey as an additional example.

2pm – The Subcommittee takes a break to vote on two pending bills.

2:21pm – The hearing is back in session.

Chairwoman Roby asks about the upcoming election: How to ensure that the Afghan government doesn’t use the lack of women in the ANP as an opportunity not to let the Afghan women exercise their right to vote?

Sopko: SIGAR did a related audit of barriers to women in the last election (2009). It recommended corrective actions to make the Independent Electoral Commission more gender-sensitive: Make polling locations secure for women, recruit women into the IEC, etc.

Ms. Barsa: Must look at security, monitoring, and civic engagement.

Monitoring: Training women to monitor election processes.

Civic Engagement (GOTV): One problem has been that we focus on training women “how to vote.” We don’t do training on how to choose a candidate that serves your needs and political platform.

I just want to note that Chairwoman Roby asked this question on behalf of Democratic committee member Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA). The chairwoman wasn’t sure that Mrs. Davis could return to the hearing after the vote. I’ve never seen a cross-party favor like that at a Congressional hearing before.

2:38pm – Dr. Katzman: Karzai or his successor will care about three things: Arms, money, Pakistan. If you want to force change in gender or other areas, you need to apply force to one of these three levers. Much of our ability to do this will deteriorate when we’re no longer there to monitor, but we have to look for ways to try.

2:40pm – Chairwoman Roby closes by emphasizing that gender rights hinge on outreach to men too. Boys must be taught to respect women in “a different way.”

She asks each panelist to reflect on the US’ proper role for women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Sopko: “What you(i.e., the committee)’re doing today.”

Barsa: Conversations with civilian and military counterparts in country is key.

Katzman: CRS can’t suggest legislation but there’s instructive history in a bill that said President Clinton shouldn’t recognize the Taliban unless they improve their attitude toward women.

2:44pm – Hearing adjourned.


  1. […] aside, US national security will remain roughly unchanged for our efforts. It remains to be seen how well gains in Afghan quality of life will […]

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