TAMPA, Fla. (March 25, 2010)
– If the best way to judge a nation’s development is in the quality of life for its women and children, then progress in improving human security in Afghanistan has been halting and at times non-existent, says a leading expert on the plight of women in the country.
Hayat Alvi, an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College who is also a USF graduate, said women in Afghanistan continue to suffer oppressive laws, poor education and abysmal healthcare even through intermittent advances in women’s rights in the war-torn country.
Alvi, whose opinions are her own and do not represent an institutional position for the Naval War College, said despite international attention, conditions remain dismal in a nation where women and girls continue to be dominated, kept uneducated and live in dire poverty.
Alvi, a 1990 graduate of the University of South Florida, noted the average lifespan of an Afghan woman is about 43 years; the leading cause of death is pregnancy and childbirth; and the vast majority of women are illiterate.
“In a nutshell, women in Afghanistan are trying very hard to get a voice in politics and face tremendous impediments,” she said. “To get a sense of what the status is, just look at the health indicators and the literacy rates and education levels of girls and women in Afghanistan and it’s some of the poorest rates and statistics and indicators in the world.”
Her grim description of the plight of women in Afghanistan came in the second day of USF’s Symposium on Afghanistan and Pakistan: The Challenges and Opportunities for Governance and the Role of Regional Actors.
The conference has attracted more than 400 attendees in its first two days, and concludes Friday with a discussion on public health issues in the region and a presentation by Central Command Gen. David H. Petraeus at 3 p.m. in the Oval Theater of the Marshall Student Center.
Members of the public planning on attending Petraeus’ talk should be advised that no purses, bags or backpacks will be allowed in the theater and seating is limited. The general’s talk also will be broadcast live at on USF.edu.
Alvi did point to some glimmers of progress: leading international development agencies now pay concerted attention to women in Afghanistan and the nation has constitutional guarantee that one-quarter of the seats in parliament are held by women. The nation also has a minister of women’s issues and a gender-specific plan in its national development agenda.
Yet women continue to be treated harshly by the male-dominated culture, the government and the courts in horrifying ways, she said.
For example, despite the passage of violence against women laws, rape victims who report the crime still end up being imprisoned for adultery. Schools which educate girls are subject to grenade, acid and poison gas attacks. Teachers and school workers have been kidnapped and had their ears and noses cut off, and scores have been slain.
Experts attending the symposium agree that Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be stabilized until the status of women and children begin to improve. And they remain a key question in the continuing global security challenge in the region.
USF is holding the conference as a means of advancing discussion on the development of future regional policy. Attending the event are contingents from U.S. Central Command, the U.S. diplomatic corps, scholars,
The conference has featured experts from the U.S. Army War College, the Rand Corporation, the Carnegie Endowment, Boston University, the Ministry of Health in Kabul and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Friday, the focus moves to public health at 9 a.m. in the Oval Theater with a wide-ranging discussion on maternal and child health; water security and the future direction of U.S. health services in Afghanistan.