Women's Rights

US names envoy to step up fight for Afghan women's rights

By Salaam Times and AFP

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Burqa-clad women travel in a vehicle along a street in Kandahar on December 18. [Javed Tanveer/AFP]

WASHINGTON -- The United States on Wednesday (December 29) appointed an envoy to defend the rights of Afghan women, stepping up efforts on a key priority.

Rina Amiri, an Afghan-born US scholar and mediation specialist who served at the US State Department under former president Barack Obama, will take the role of special envoy for human rights and Afghan women's rights, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Months after the United States ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan, Blinken said that Amiri will address issues of "critical importance to me" and the rest of President Joe Biden's administration.

"We desire a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan, where all Afghans can live and thrive in political, economic and social inclusivity," Blinken said in a statement.

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Rina Amiri May 30, 2013, in New York City attends an event celebrating Afghan women's rights. [Voice of America]

After the fall of the Afghan government in mid-August, many women remain barred from returning to work, and girls are largely cut off from secondary schooling.

On Sunday, Kabul rulers said that women would not be allowed to travel long distances without a male escort.

The Afghan Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice earlier asked TV channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring actresses and, while not barring female TV journalists, called on them to wear headscarves.

Groups of Afghan women have persisted in speaking out, including through sporadic public protests.

'Principled' engagement with new Afghan rulers

Amiri left Afghanistan as a child, with her family settling in California. She studied law and diplomacy at Tufts University and became outspoken about women's rights in Afghanistan.

She went on to become an adviser to Richard Holbrooke, the late US diplomat whose last assignment was on Afghanistan and Pakistan. She also has worked with the United Nations. Holbrooke died in 2010.

In a recent essay, Amiri called for "principled yet pragmatic diplomatic engagement" with the new Afghan government, while continuing to hold off diplomatic recognition.

Regional players such as Pakistan have not adequately included women's rights in their calls on the new Afghan rulers to be more inclusive, she said.

But she also doubted that Afghans, most of whom were born after the 1996–2001 era of Afghan history, would accept a return to the previous treatment of women, saying that the country has "internalised the progress and cultural changes of the past 20 years".

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