Women, Peace & Security

Afghanistan’s women are the key to a lasting peace

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An article written by Sohrab Azad calls for more participation of Afghanistan women in the peace process.

Key points are:

  • To guarantee a peace process that will materialize and come to fruition, women need to be substantively involved at every level from pre-negotiation to talks, instead of serving as a symbolic checkbox that needs to be ticked off for the illusion of inclusion, as has occurred far too often in Afghanistan.
  • There is still time to develop a negotiations framework and foundation that allows women to be essential components of the greater infrastructure of the peace process.
  • A massive obstacle in fully integrating women in the peace process is the disagreement among major stakeholders in the conflict about their value. Those in power – ranging from the political elite to local leaders to civil servants – are likely to only be concerned about how a potential power-sharing agreement will affect their power and access to patronage networks, meaning that women will not be viewed as vital participants unless it is beneficial to them. All indications suggest that the United States is simply attempting to broker an agreement that will reduce violence and allow for a withdrawal of troops, not safeguarding or providing basic rights for women and more marginalized religious and ethnic communities.
  • In some circles, there is an unwarranted fear that the inclusion of women and minorities will produce a spoiling effect, preventing an accord between the Afghan government and the Taliban. This fear resulted in a conscious effort to exclude women from the peace talks. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has been in this position before. Since 2005, women have had an active role in negotiations only twice, so the exclusion of women has not proven to produce peace.
  • These unsuccessful strategies have prevailed because there is an antiquated assumption that women’s empowerment is only of concern to urban Afghan women and international funders and excludes the voices of rural women.
  • In Afghanistan, the perception of whether women are viewed as victims or agents is based on distorted cultural elements. The perception of women is not fueled by cultural heritage, but rather a culture of war that has been accepted and pushed by oppressive actors, both domestic and foreign.
  • Even with grave political and societal repression, the women of Afghanistan have fought to make their agency clear and to involve themselves in the governance and future of their country. Women activists have fostered a culture of peace through participating in athletics and street art.
  • Since 2001, there has been a great transition back to the participation of women in the political and economic environment. President Ashraf Ghani’s National Action Plan, launched in 2015, has paved the way to involve more women in higher-level positions than ever before in the history of the country as 28 percent of the parliament is comprised of women legislators. At the state and local level, women make up 22 percent of provincial peace councils and 48 percent community development councils. While this participation may at times be largely symbolic, it sends a message that women are regaining their rightful position at the heart of Afghan society.
  • With all of this progress, out the 21-member peace team established by Kabul, which was rejected by the Taliban, only five members were women. Empowerment is not simply having a diverse set of persons in a government or council, but also letting them drive the narrative and establish the framework.

Read the full article here.