Recently, I attended a two day conference, organized by AWN and another organization, Equality for Peace and Development, EPD, and convened by over one hundred women activists from across Afghanistan. The conference took place last weekend, ahead of this past Tuesday’s Kabul Conference. Its organization was prompted by women concerned about being overlooked and ignored by the Kabul Conference as well as the over all Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program. Women in Afghanistan are worried their rights sit on the trading block as the Afghan government attempts to make its way toward a peace settlement.
In response to the blatant exclusion of women from yet another international conference on Afghanistan, the women’s conference provided a forum in which women from across the country joined hands in voicing not only concerns, needs, and priorities, but also that without thought to women’s role in peace building, Afghanistan will never rise on its feet.
The women came with serious concerns and criticisms of the current state of affairs in not just the country, but in provinces, cities, and villages from which they hail. Many were skeptical over the words of certain ministers who spoke on the panels, and they posed tough questions and tougher criticisms against the government’s handling of many issues.
They called on the Afghan government and the international community to remember Afghan women both in the decisions made on peace, and to give due space for them to voice their concerns and ideas on the road ahead. Activists want a real commitment made to the women of Afghanistan in order to move forward toward any peace and security.
I should point out that several leading documents signed by the Afghan government protect women’s rights and support economic empowerment of women, including the National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA), the Afghan Constitution, and the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS). Women have also contributed to a number of international forums, including the Dubai Women Dialogue (January 2010), Civil Society Conference in London, Afghan Women’s Forum, and Role of Women in the Peace Jirga (May 2010).
Despite this degree of presence on the international and national scene, women are shut out of the decision-making and policy creation that goes on in other areas but especially in building an inclusive peace settlement with warring parties, the government, and Afghan society. Women’s achievements still stand in contrast to the violence, discrimination, and intimidation many face, due both to endemic cultural practices and to the conflict that contributes severely to the terrible plight of women in Afghanistan. They continue to face tenuous circumstances and in many parts of the country continue to bear the brunt of the upheavals and brutality of the conflict.
A new report finds that women face terror and repression in areas that have been recaptured by the Taliban. And while they account for approximately 48% of the Afghan population, women are also often ignored or treated with extreme caution by policy makers. International and national policy makers often ignore or treat with little regard commitments such as tenets of the Afghan Constitution supporting women’s inclusion, and priorities set in ANDS and NAPWA.
Furthermore, while international and Afghan policy makers and governments speak on behalf of women when it suits their agenda, adequate inclusion of women in international and national forums still has much to be desired. Women have been ignored at every international conference on Afghanistan, and the Kabul Conference was no different.
Activists were not shy to say they were ignored by national and international decision-makers. Suraya Pakzad, founder of Voice of Women of Afghanistan (VWO)in Herat, and an AWN member, spoke plainly, “We have not been consulted… we want to be involved in the policy making. We do not just want to have our presence serve purely as a symbol”.
The two-day women’s conference focused on women’s role in peace building and reintegration, discussion of the follow up of First Women’s Council recommendations on NAPWA as an important benchmark in achieving women’s development, and place reflection and consensus on Afghan women’s concerns, needs, and priorities for the outcomes of the Kabul Conference. At the end, it produced a conference statement with key recommendations on five governance cluster areas – agriculture and rural development, human resource, economic and infrastructure development, security, and governance- to the Afghan government and other policy/decision makers present at the Kabul Conference.
By Tuesday, after intense lobbying by Afghan women’s groups, only two women beside government ministers took part in the Kabul Conference. Sima Samar, represented the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), a national human rights monitoring body, and Palwasha Hassan, an AWN member and former candidate for Minister of Women’s Affairs, represented women’s voice from Afghanistan’s slowly budding civil society.
President Karzai at the Kabul Conference also assured that in a bid to make peace with the Taliban, who had brutal policies toward both groups, the rights of women and minorities will not be undermined. Many seem to be aware that to ignore half the population in development and peace strategy will show to be detrimental to the social, political, and economic viability of the country in the end. However, with all the activism and lobbying efforts of women, the Kabul Conference produced a statement that essentially gave a nod regarding women’s rights, inclusion, and protection, but still has left a deep gap in the inclusion and attention to bringing women into the roles of policy and decision making, especially in terms of building peace in Afghanistan.
Posted By Zarin Hamid
Posted Jul 25th, 2010