Congresswoman Niki Tsongas spoke today on the House Floor about the importance of protecting the progress that has been made for women in Afghanistan. Congresswoman Tsongas spoke in support of bipartisan Senate language authored by Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. that was added to the Senate version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization bill (NDAA). The NDAA authorizes funding and sets policy for the Department of Defense.
On Monday, the challenges facing women in Afghanistan who are taking on greater and more public roles and responsibilities was highlighted by the assassination of Najia Sediqi, the acting head of women's affairs in an eastern Afghan province.
"This week we were reminded of the tenuous position of women in Afghanistan when the acting head of women's affairs in an eastern province was assassinated as she traveled to work,"said Congresswoman Tsongas. "Such cowardly acts make it clear that the US must put in place a legitimate plan to support Afghan women and not let the progress they have made since 2001 go to waste."
During her time in Congress, Congresswoman Tsongas has visited Afghanistan four times. She recently joined her House colleagues on a letter calling for stronger protections for Afghan women and girls in the final version of the National Defense Authorization bill.
Today, Congresswoman Tsongas was appointed a conferee to the NDAA Conference Committee, the bipartisan group that will reconcile the differences between that bill's House and Senate versions. As a conferee, Congresswoman Tsongas will be in a strong position to advocate for the ultimate inclusion of the Casey amendment.
The following is a transcript of Congresswoman Tsongas' remarks on the House Floor today, as prepared for delivery.
"This Motion supports bipartisan Senate language that would help promote the security of Afghan women and girls.
Since becoming a member of Congress, I have had the honor of visiting Afghanistan four times. I have been fortunate to visit, in particular, with some of our "military moms" serving in Afghanistan, female soldiers who have children back home.
Thousands of soldiers, men and women go without seeing their family and loved ones for months on end, highlighting the extraordinary sacrifice that accompanies military service.
These service women and men have made such very personal sacrifices for the people of Afghanistan.
The ever increasing participation of women in our military demonstrates the important contributions women are making to our effort in Afghanistan and around the world. It also stands in stark contrast to the involvement that Afghan women are able to have in their country's public life.
One of the most striking observations I made during this last trip was that if this country is to become more stable and secure, women must be included in Afghan society and government.
Last year, I visited a school where over one thousand young Afghan girls cycled through each day.
When we asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, the answers we heard were "doctor, lawyer, teacher."
These young women felt optimistic about opportunities that were previously unheard of for women in Afghanistan and represent a future of promise for this country.
Ensuring that these young girls continue to have access to these opportunities, and more broadly, ensuring that women are able to participate in Afghan society as a whole, is not only good for the future of Afghanistan, it is good for the United States as well so that we can help ensure a more peaceful and just future there.
As we reduce our military presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. must be cognizant of how we will ensure that women continue to have a seat at the table and that the nascent gains are not abdicated.
On Monday we were reminded of the tenuous position of women in Afghanistan when the acting head of women's affairs in an eastern province was assassinated as she traveled to work.
This bipartisan language would require that the Department of Defense produce a plan to promote the security of Afghan women and girls as it withdraws from the country. It would encourage the recruitment of women as members of the Security Forces and require the Department of Defense to report back on its progress towards meeting these goals.
I strongly urge a yes vote on the Motion."