Theses Master's

Relying on Goodwill: Analyzing Twenty Years of Women’s Rights Promotion in Afghanistan Through Detrimental Reliance Theory

Jamshidi, Nazila

The creation and consolidation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that worked to promote women’s education, advocacy, economic empowerment, and political engagement were considered an explicit part of the democratization process in post-9/11 Afghanistan. In other words, women’s rights were core to democratization because democracy is about citizenship rights, participation, and inclusion. The role of civil society and NGOs in this context was to complement the Afghan government in fostering liberal democracy, such as promoting women’s rights. Although uneven, dramatic changes in women’s access to education, healthcare, employment, and political participation were made through international development programs over the last two decades.

International incentives have positively and significantly contributed to Afghanistan adopting a gender dimension in the reconstruction process. However, with the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the civil society that promoted women’s rights significantly deteriorated. Civil society institutions and other advocates have fled or are in hiding and at risk. The fact that the Afghan civil society, particularly the one promoting women’s rights and democracy, lost so much ground very quickly proves the failure of international support in building a resilient civil society that could remain functioning in the presence of political change, on which this study has identified three significant factors. This paper highlights several elements underpinning the reliance of Afghan civil society on international support.

This study also strives to consider whether obligations arise when foreign governments and international institutions foster a civil society that becomes reliant on their continued support and whether to consider this when making future international development decisions, particularly once reliance on international aid and incentives has taken place. Members of Afghan civil society, former Afghan government officials, American and Afghan analysts, and various experts were interviewed. A content analysis of interviews, statements made by the U.S. leaders, and findings from state-building reports and assessments demonstrate that beneficiaries of international human rights incentives, promises, or guarantees act in reliance on those inducements, even in the absence of a clear and firm strategy for building a self-reliant institution government. This research concludes that governments and international institutions promoting human rights should consider detrimental reliance when designing policies and programs to advance women’s human rights.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Apple, Betsy
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
March 8, 2023