Political Landscape

Women and Reconciliation (3): One Step Forward and a Running Match Backwards


This week three major reports about women’s participation in a possible peace process and their stake in the future of Afghanistan were released. The key messages of the reports are that women’s achievements are fragile, and that they are now eroding. AAN’s Sari Kouvo had a look at the Afghanistan Women’s Network’s, ActionAid’s and OXFAM’s analysis.

Monday, 3 October Oxfam released its report ‘A Place at the Table: Safeguarding Women’s Rights in Afghanistan’ and Action Aid its report ‘A Just Peace? A Legacy of War for the Women of Afghanistan’ and on Thursday 6 October Afghanistan Women’s Network (AWN) published the results of its consultation with women from all over Afghanistan (see herehere and here). The three reports are very different. The Oxfam report was authored by Louise Hancock and Orzala Ashraf Nemat, ActionAid’s report is based on a polling of 1000 women done by STATT Consulting and Awaz Women and Children Welfare Organisation and AWN did its own consultations with 100 women.
The hook for all three reports is transition and reconciliation, but what they catch is much broader, it is the day to day struggles of women to advance their rights in a context that is conservative, violent and unpredictable. The reports do refer to the often cited and important advances made for women’s rights, such as an emphasis on equal rights in the Constitution, but even more so they focus on the careful work done by women to ensure that their presence in the public space and in work places is again accepted, and their organizations are able to operate. While the Constitution may not be changed overnight, it is the small advances that are under threat due to political accommodation of political forces (including political opportunism by those keen to limit women’s political space) and increasing presence of gunmen in communities (either insurgents or alternative Afghan security forces, including Afghan Local Police (ALP)).
What strikes me when reading the reports is how little control women feel that they have over their own lives and key decisions relating to the future of their country. What many of the individual women interviewed in especially the ActionAid report speak about is the frustration of having little control over their own lives. Or as one of the women interviewed notes, ‘I’m not sure that my daughters lives will be better than mine. I would rather have been born a man’. Another woman, currently in prison, notes that ‘life in prison is better for women in Afghanistan than life outside’. The AWN report focuses on how women’s experiences of transition are not taken into account, as women were not consulted about transition and as they are not enabled to monitor transition. Consequently, there are no formal avenues for making women’s voiced heard.
All three reports include recommendations to enable women’s representation and substantial participation at all levels of a possible peace process. However, the AWN report is most concrete, identifying what needs to happen so that women’s concerns – and more broadly human security concerns are not ignored in transition and in a reconciliation process that takes account of transitional justice. Some of the key recommendations in the AWN report are that:

• Women are included in the planning for transition and monitoring of the transition process, and AWN calls for a proper vetting process of Afghan Local Police (ALP) and other alternative security forces ‘so that former and current warlords with previous records of human rights violations do not automatically become part of the national forces’;

• A focus on “family packages” in the reintegration process, ensuring that the reintegrated combatants are monitored for at least two years, but also that their families and the possibilities that their families receive become a reason for the combatants not to rejoin the insurgency;

• A joint international and Afghan War Memory Commission be established. The Commission would investigate war crimes from the past three decades with a view to contribute to a national healing process.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape, Rights & Freedoms