Audrey Roberts

Audrey Roberts (Afghan Women's Network's - AWN) Audrey received her BA in cultural anthropology from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2003. While working toward a MA in socio-cultural anthropology from Columbia University in 2006, she liaised between the UN and civil society in Haiti during an internship with the United Nations Association-Haiti. After receiving her MA in 2006, Audrey worked with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Belgrade (Democratization Department).

Fighting (the international community?) for Afghan women’s rights

18 Jul

Laughter. Are you serious?

This is the response I received after I told two men who are working for NATO-ISAF – one from Turkey, one from the United States – that I am working on campaigns to push NATO-ISAF and PRT Commanders to design and incorporate gender policies into their strategies and operations.

Prior to my arrival to Kabul, I envisaged myself providing support for campaigns Afghan women’s rights directed at Afghan society and the Government of Afghanistan. How wrong I was!! For the 2 months I have been in Afghanistan, I have spent 90% of my time and energy advocating for the importance of gender considerations and Afghan women’s rights, not to the Government of Afghanistan or to Afghan society, but to the international community in Afghanistan. I have been pushing NATO-ISAF, PRT Commanders and the Civil Military Working Group that is drafting the new Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) Guidelines for Afghanistan to understand the importance of gender.

We have to understand that NATO is very different from NATO-ISAF, and that there are different national models for PRTs. PRTs are very, very autonomous. They have a lot of freedom. How they operate depends on the area of operation and their nation’s priorities. In addition, a lot depends on the amount of funds they have. There are haves and have nots among the 25 PRTs. The Swedish PRT’s budget is something like $40,000, while many of the US PRTs have budgets that are in the 10s of millions. This is why awareness raising/public awareness is almost more important than pushing for an operational policy change at the NATO-ISAF level. PRT Commanders have to understand that incorporating gender policy in their strategies and operations will lead to operational effectiveness and influence operation success. AWN has succeeded in getting an invitation to one of the quarterly PRT Commander Conferences, which will be held at the end of August. At the Conference, AWN will not present the importance of gender considerations to all 200 people, but they will be part of a Sub-Group on Gender within the frame of the Conference. It is also important for AWN to discuss this issue with individual PRTs. We succeeded in getting NATO’s support to organize a lunch with some PRT Commanders, with NATOs assistance, and MOWA and AWN.

Regarding NATO-ISAF, for the past two months we were told that the PRT Working Group is drafting a Policy Note on Gender. The PRT Working Group is made up of representatives of embassies and national offices of the PRT Troop Contributing Nations. Draft Policy Notes are presented to the entire Working Group for comment and editing. After everyone has had their say, Policy Notes are considered for approval by the PRT Executive Steering Committee (ESC). The ESC is made up of the Ambassadors and key national representatives. This is NOT a fast process and it moves with “all due deliberate speed,” we were told. As you might have noticed, no where in this process is there a consultative phase where representatives from the Government of Afghanistan or civil society can provide feedback and suggestions. I was just informed today that the PRT Working Group decided not to pursue a Policy Note on Gender at this time. The Policy Note on Gender was the only thing that Ambassador Everts, NATO SCR, could point to as proof that gender is a priority for NATO. Now that there is absolutely no indication that gender is a priority for NATO, AWN needs to push NATO and PRTs even harder.

PRTs need to be more transparent and accountable to the people of Afghanistan. AWN, with my support, are advocating for the importance of consulting with the people when developing these Policy Notes, and, in this case, consulting with Afghan women. Women need to be incorporated into all levels of decision making processes to maximize their contribution to the reconstruction process.

We determined that CIMIC is an incredibly important front to take on. There are new CIMIC Guidelines being drafted for Afghanistan at this time. As it stands, gender considerations are not incorporated into the guidelines. They are being drafted off of other peace operations and successful CIMIC models, so the argument goes. The point is that gender has not really been incorporated into the operational (tactical-practical) levels in peace operations before. However, there are a few good examples of gender being successfully ‘operationalized’ in EUFOR missions. I have secured a spot for AWN at the next Civil Military Working Group to argue why it is important to incorporate gender considerations into the Guidelines.

Apparently, I am not alone in advocating for gender sensitivity and gender awareness to parts of the international community in Afghanistan. A few days ago I had a meeting with the Sr. Adviser on Police and Gender to the Ministry of Interior of the Government of Afghanistan, who is contracted by the Canadian Government to work with MoI. She told me that the international police reform contingent said they do not have time or the resources to incorporate gender into the reform process. “We can always go back and incorporate gender later,” they remarked. Can you?

Posted By Audrey Roberts

Posted Jul 18th, 2007


  • Stephanie

    September 10, 2007


    I don’t know what these acronyms are:
    (although I can certainly take a stab at the NATO part).

  • Linda

    July 20, 2009


    Do I think a very interesting and colorful life! Main go forward and never give up as though it was hard not to!

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