Afghan women walk away from the site of an ongoing attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul on July 31, 2017
The contemporary history of the South Asian region nearly always had a substantial component of conflict. Some examples include the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir that has been ongoing since 1947; the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war; civil war and rise of insurgency and conflict in Nepal; and the ethnic conflict and insurgency in Sri Lanka, among others.
In all these and other conflicts, women have been the most affected in terms of human rights violation, loss of social and political rights, and loss of dignity. There have also been some initiatives to prevent, manage and resolve conflict. Although peace processes have been initiated, women have not truly been part of it and often, their concerns remained neglected or unaddressed.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan has experienced different political changes and conflict and understanding the situation of women in different periods in Afghanistan could provide a comprehensive understanding on the overall status of women.
In the 2001, Taliban regime was ousted, and Afghanistan began moving towards a democratic form of governance. The Bonn conference resulted in the guidelines for peace, security and reconciliation in the country.
One of the key concerns voiced during this conference was on the issue of ensuring human rights. In addition to democratic values, upholding women’s rights, too, was identified as a core component of the new government. Therefore, the Afghan government should assure women’s participation in political and social spheres.
The Bonn conference laid the foundation of peace initiatives in Afghanistan. Although the Bonn conference was foundation of peace-keeping in Afghanistan, women’s participation and role was not mentioned in this initiative. Given how women as part of the society were equally affected by war and conflict, they have a right to be part of the peace process and peace negotiation.
The Bonn conference followed by the 2003 Constitutional Loya Jirga. The Loya Jirga is the traditional grand assembly in Afghanistan and is convened to deliberate and decide on matters related to national interest.
The Constitutional Loya Jirga was convened to ratify the new Afghan constitution. Although the constitution allows women to become the president, the constitution is also based on Sharia law, which restricts women.
In the 2004, Afghanistan held its first presidential election, and eventually women have begun to take active part in the election (voting, evaluating the process etc.). Women’s activities during elections showed that they were undertaking efforts to play an active role in decision making.
As the Article 22, Article 43 and Article 83 of the Afghan constitution guarantees women’s rights. The Afghan government has sought to demonstrate its support for women’s rights by endorsing different international conventions such as: The Elimination of Violence Against Women In Afghanistan (EVAW) Law; the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (which addresses women’s participation in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building).
Despite the government’s efforts, so far, women’s participation remains very low in the decision-making and public spheres. The Afghan government is yet to produce a comprehensive strategy that can solve women’s problems at the grassroots level and reduce the number of marginalized and excluded women throughout the country.
This situation suggests that mere commitments are inadequate to protect and boost women’s rights if the government itself does not believe in the associated principles and values.
The Afghan government assured women’s participation under different strategies and plans. The National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) envisaged a peaceful and progressive country where women have equal role and opportunities.
The National Action Plan (NAP 1325) on women, peace and security is one of the significant achievements of the incumbent government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani supported this document as one of the Afghan government’s budgetary documents for women’s empowerment and participation in peace and security processes.
But the challenges for women in the peace process are manifold. In the High Peace Council, the highest peace-making body that seeks to push peace agenda with the Taliban, the numbers of women are lesser than those of men. All HPC members are nominated by the president, and president nominated only elite women in this council. The elite women who never experienced war cannot be the representatives of unheard voices of women who lived in war and conflict.
Other challenge is the lack of national consensus on the peace process. There is a continuous negative propaganda about the peace process, which makes people, including women, lose hope. Female security and challenges of social norms are also many. Women’s participation in the PPCs (Provincial Peace Council) is not the same in all provinces in Afghanistan. In some provinces dominated by extremists, women have limited options due to social barriers, lack of capacity, religious barriers, existence of tribal codes under which women do not have access to their own fundamental rights.
Meanwhile, female members of the PPCs face different types of violence and threats from insurgent groups. Some institutional challenges are also there. The HPC itself is struggling with different challenges and problems such as a lack of qualified and educated HPC members for solving problems. The HPC members are not professionally trained in this regard, and therefore do not have the capacity to deal with the challenges and solve problems.
On the other hand, the female members of the PPC are not yet systematically involved in the reintegration process. Therefore, dominant patriarchal structures at the community level caused women’s participation in peace activities and even decision-making processes to remain symbolic.
However, as the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban draws closer, many women fear that they may pay a heavy price for peace. Reconciliation with the Taliban, a group with misogynist policies, has raised serious concerns regarding the possibility of peace.
Besides social norms that limited women’s participation in the peace process, women were systematically excluded from major peace decisions.
Women as part of the society can play an active role in the peace process because women do not want their rights to be traded away during negotiation with insurgent groups. Despite the position of Taliban is unclear for this peace negotiation, according to latest news Taliban are changing their intentions for peace process over times.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of government to support and protect the women’s participation in the peace process and decision making for aiming a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
© Mehr News Agency
Mona Hossaini is a gender development expert with Afghanistan Justice Organization.
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