printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Gender Justice Programming in Afghanistan

Jennie Kim, Former Program Manager on Gender Justice Programs in Afghanistan for INL
Washington, DC
January 3, 2013


Hello, it's a pleasure to be here today and to discuss a little bit further about my entry in the Civilian Securities Challenge.

As program officers in the J family working to advance civilian security worldwide, I think for all of us who recognize the fact that violence is not cultural, that insecurity is not cultural, but that violence and security can have a profound impact on the culture.

To give you an example, an Afghan woman who we support, who runs a shelter in Afghanistan, told me, "Jennie, my own mother had more freedom than I do. In the 1970s, she said, she remembers she saw that women driving public buses in Afghanistan, but today my own son won't let me drive my own car."

How do you explain such a dramatic shift?

Is it the culture? Did the culture naturally change to become more oppressive? Of course not.

Conditions changed. Security changed.

And those conditions and the changes in security shape the way that people make choices for themselves and for their families.

And that's why civilian security is so important, because where it exists, it enables there to be a space for people to move their culture forward.

And in Afghanistan, what we have seen is women in particular being very effective at taking advantage of this opportunity.

So when I talk about civilian security I don't just mean police and helicopters and law enforcement. I don't just mean physical security, although that's very important. What I'm talking about is something broader. To me, civilian security means that people in society believe that the choices they make matter; that life is not arbitrary and cruel; and it implies a basic expectation of justice.

And in the case of Lal Bibi, I'm pleased to say that the system worked for her; that people came together; that government and civil society came together and protected her.

I can also tell you that for every Lal Bibi, whose case was reported in the New York Times and received international media attention, there are a hundred women like her that our programs support.

So to conclude, I'll tell you about one of these women, a girl really. Her name is Arso, she's thirteen years old, and earlier this year she was kidnapped in Kunduz province, where she has no family, no connections. After two months of capture and abuse, she managed to escape. She was quickly picked up on the street by police, who caught her because she was wearing the burqa backwards, being from a province where she wasn't used to wearing a burqa. You can imagine the attention she drew, as a confused young woman wearing a burqa backwards, not knowing where she was or where she was going.

So the police caught her and she told them her story.

The police didn't ignore her. They didn't arrest her for running away. They didn't re-victimize her.

They took her to a shelter that we support in Kunduz province, the same shelter that helped Lal Bibi. Then the police, the shelter and the hospital worked together to catch the kidnapper. After treating her injuries, the hospital let the kidnapper know that they had Arso waiting for him. When the kidnapper came to pick her up, the police were waiting there, ready to arrest him.

After that, the legal aid team at the shelter provided Arso and her family with support to file charges against the kidnapper. The case went to trial and he was sentenced to eight years. The sentence was appealed, as sentences often are in Afghanistan, and upon appeal he was sentenced to ten years. So then he stopped appealing. But to me that is a prime example of what civilian security looks like when it works, when government and civil society come together to protect their own people.

And in Afghanistan, in this case, in doing so they not only advanced security for themselves, they not only advanced women's rights, but they undermined extremists who wished to take Afghanistan back to the era of the Taliban.

I know that for all of us in the J family of bureaus that is a goal that we can support with our programs, looking towards the transition and beyond. Thanks so much!

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.