The sad news of the death of Dr Woo and her colleagues comes at the same time as the news that a UK policeman has been shot and killed in Afghanistan.
In many ways this goes to the heart of the problem in Afghanistan and some other developing country’s. It may be a long time ago but when John Reid was Secretary of State for defence he expressed the hope that UK troops would leave Afghanistan without firing a shot. A naive but genuine hope said in the knowledge that troops were being sent under the UN to provide stability for the government that would allow development to take place. The UN was emphasising the importance of rights for woman not just because the organisation believed it was right but because the evidence was very strong that without women’s rights development was far less likely to happen.
The problem for NGO’s is that they are inevitably challenging the power base of groups who oppose development and who maintain power by enforcing the status quo. So health care that improves the position of woman poses a political challenge. Sadly in this situation NGO’s are inevitably part of the political process. In the early days of the Afghan conflict with the UN forces the Taliban and others decided to target volunteers , civil servants, teachers and others so John Reid’s optimistic hope that UK troops would leave without firing a shot failed. This problem is not unique to Afghanistan – it is more starkly reported in te UK because our troops are under fire but it is happening in other countries where those supporting development are in conflict with those who feel threatened by that development.