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At NATO summit on Afghanistan, few women's voices heard

Afghan women and international rights advocates are growing increasingly concerned that a decade-long focus on expanding Afghan women’s rights will go when US and NATO forces leave.

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President Barack Obama shakes hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during their meeting at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Sunday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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With the US and NATO planning the departure of their forces from Afghanistan by December 2014, some Afghan women and international rights advocates are growing increasingly concerned that a decade-long focus on expanding Afghan women’s rights will go with them.

As NATO leaders – mostly men, it’s fair to say – assembled in Chicago to plan the transition to a fully Afghan-led security effort next year, another gathering – this one of Afghan and American women – focused on the need to protect Afghan women’s educational, social, and political gains over the last decade.

“We have to ensure that our commitment to Afghan women does not end as our troops come home,” said US Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) of Illinois, at a conference Sunday that laid out an eight-point plan for safeguarding and strengthening Afghan women’s rights.

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Amnesty International, which sponsored Sunday’s conference, called it a “shadow summit” in part because women, and Afghan women in particular, are largely absent from the NATO gathering taking place at the same time.

The Afghan delegation to the NATO summit led by President Hamid Karzai originally included no women, according to Frank Januzzi, director of Amnesty International’s Washington office. But at least two women were added, including one female member of the Afghan Parliament, when prominent Afghan women protested the absence.

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