After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021 and the departure of NATO forces, Dr Neelam Raina (also Associate Professor of Design and International Development at Middlesex) has been campaigning on behalf of women and girls in Afghanistan. Those who have fled the country and those who have been left behind.
She founded the Afghan Solidarity Coalition (ASC) in October 2021. This group brought together organisations that have been working on research and peace-building activities with local partners in Afghanistan. It has helped evacuate at risk colleagues and continues to coordinate activities including fundraising and resettlement assistance to Afghan human rights activists, women peace builders, artists, film makers, researchers, doctors and LGBQTI activists.
Dr Raina submitted evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee Withdrawal from Afghanistan Inquirywhich was published earlier this year. The delayed report relates to events that took place in 2021, focusing on the work of the Ministry of Defence and the UK Armed Forces.
The report was highly critical of aspects of the government’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and concluded that lessons needed to be learnt:
“The UK contribution to the war in Afghanistan took the lives of 457 UK armed forces personnel and injured thousands more, and cost more than £27 billion. The evacuation from Afghanistan in August 2021 resulted in 15,000 people being brought to the UK but left many behind. It is therefore of critical importance that the UK Government conduct an open, honest and detailed review of the UK’s involvement in the country.”
Dr Raina’s evidence suggested that UK efforts to evacuate eligible personnel compared poorly to other countries and were still “chaotic” by November 2021, claiming in contrast that the Germans had run a seamless operation to evacuate their eligible personnel.
“Many women and girls were left behind in Afghanistan and now live in what has been called a ‘gender apartheid’. They are no longer allowed in public spaces and are barred from education and work. Many of them now live in abject poverty. More could have and should have been done in 2021 by the UK government.” Dr Neelam Raina, Middlesex University
It is hoped that the report will be used to influence government policy in this area. The next enquiry will be by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on the Home Office’s handling of the withdrawal and Dr Raina has submitted evidence once again.
Dr Raina also played a key role in setting up the Afghan Women and Girls All Party Parliamentary Group, chaired by Wendy Chamberlain with co-chairs Caroline Nokes and Liz Saville Roberts.
The Group promotes the needs of Afghan women and girls within policy making and raise awareness across Parliament in respect of this vulnerable group whilst enabling the vital role that Afghan women must play in peacebuilding, mediation and post conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan.
Dr Raina’s expertise in the area stems from her lead role in the UKRI-GCRF research Hub which was formed in 2019 and based at the London School of Economics. Middlesex is one of the partners and Dr Raina leads the project across four countries in South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan). Her project on Culture and Conflict is part of the Hub’s transformation and empowerment work stream, which is a collaboration between academic partners in the UK, civil society organisations in South Asia, and a UK based creative business.
Find out more about the Gender, Justice and Security Hub project at Middlesex University