Sune Engel Rasmussen reports: In a rocky graveyard at the edge of Lashkar Gah, a local police commander was digging his sister’s grave.
Her name was Salima, but it was never uttered at her funeral. As is custom in rural Afghanistan, no women attended the ceremony, and of the dozens of men gathered to pay their respects, few had known the deceased.
Salima, like almost all women in Helmand province, had spent most of her life after puberty cloistered in her family home.
Her family said she accidentally shot herself in the face when she came across a Kalashnikov hidden under some blankets while cleaning.
In town – Helmand’s provincial capital – the story was regarded with suspicion, if not surprise. Salima died 10 days before an arranged marriage, but nobody asked any questions: it would be improper to scrutinise a woman’s death.
Her body was lowered into the hole, wrapped in a thin, black shroud. She had lived unseen, and was buried by strangers.
For more than 15 years, women’s empowerment has been claimed as a central pillar of western efforts in Afghanistan. Yet in Helmand, adult women are almost entirely invisible, even in the city. They are the property of their family, and few are able to work or seek higher education, independent medical care or justice.
And if the advancement of women’s rights has moved at a glacial pace in places such as Helmand, the process toward peace has slid backwards. Helmand’s two main towns, Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, are among a handful of places in the province not under Taliban control.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has yet to define a strategy for Afghanistan.
The US was expected to have approved the deployment of about 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan by now – the first surge since the withdrawal began in 2011.
Yet the administration is torn. The president himself has wondered aloud “why we’ve been there for 17 years”, and recent reports even suggest that the White House is considering scaling back instead. [Continue reading…]