This post originally appeared on Foreign Policy.
Just over a decade ago, in January 2002, the world came together in Tokyo in the wake of the fall of the Taliban regime to pledge our common support for political, economic and social transition in Afghanistan.
We were well aware of the long-term nature of the commitment we were making, in line with the ancient Afghan proverb, “One flower will not make a spring.”
As key world leaders convene this weekend in Tokyo to reaffirm this commitment and keep faith with the Afghan people in advance of the draw-down of international combat forces, it is important to also reflect on the significant achievements made in Afghanistan over the past decade, especially for women and girls.
Afghan women today live an average of 15 years longer than they did a decade ago, thanks to dramatically increased access to health care, increased midwife assisted births, a tripling of gross domestic product per capita, and a large decline in the number of people living in extreme poverty.
Educational opportunities for women and girls have expanded dramatically: nearly 40 percent of students enrolled in schools are girls and 120,000 female students have graduated from secondary schools in the last five years alone.
About 40,000 young women are enrolled in public and private universities, with more enrolling each year.
Some observers are concerned that these achievements, will unravel with the departure of international combat forces and that these gains could be reversed. But, the Afghan people – with our support – are not prepared to sacrifice the gains they have made, particularly by Afghan women, as they understand that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind.
That is why our agencies – U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department – will continue working with our Afghan and international partners to support opportunities that enable Afghan women and girls to fight for gender equality and implement laws protecting their human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in Kabul in early May provides a long-term framework for relations between the United States and Afghanistan after the drawdown of U.S. forces and highlights the mutual commitments of both nations to the protection of women’s rights and the advancement of the essential role of Afghan women in society in order to live up to their full God-given potential economically, socially, and politically.
There’s a long path ahead for Afghanistan.
But part of the way ahead is simple and clear – tapping Afghan women’s full potential is essential to achieving peace, stability and economic growth in Afghanistan.
And so one notable difference between the two Tokyo conferences is the enhanced participation of women this time around.
Women will be in Tokyo in full force: indeed, the past 10 years, women have raised expectations for their inclusion even as they have shown that women in Afghanistan are a powerful force of stability, brokers for peace, and a vital component of economic opportunities.
Civil society groups attending Tokyo are calling for equal participation in the Afghan and international delegation; the adoption of “gender-impact statements” for all reconstruction and development projects; and the allocation of external funding to projects that advance education, health, housing, livelihoods and other opportunities for women and girls.
A strong civil society and full participation of Afghan women at national, local and provincial levels also will give us the best chance for any potential for peace. The role of civil society is particularly constructive in the ability to bring communities together working at the grassroots level. They can help to develop peace rooted at local levels and then most importantly to help keep it.
No, a single flower does not make a spring, but A combination of a strong civil society working together with the Afghan government to guarantee women’s rights will cement their crucial role in Afghanistan’s future.
With our mutual support and careful nurturing, the advancements of the strong women of Afghanistan over the past decade can blossom into a stable, prosperous and sustainable future for the people of Afghanistan.
So we’ll stand by them.
Melanne Verveer is President Obama’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and Donald Steinberg serves as deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.