Afghan Women: Modernizing Global Practices of Peacebuilding?
The Afghan government and the Taliban started their long-delayed peace talks in Doha, Qatar, on September 12th, 2020. The goal is ambitious: ending the 19 year-long war in Afghanistan. While there is great hope for white smoke down the road, some important questions remain. What will peace look like and will it be sustainable? Will the peace agreement aim primarily at ending military violence? Or can it equally ensure greater economic development and safeguards for human rights?
The context of the negotiations does not bode well for those who hope to achieve an inclusive future for all of Afghanistan. While longstanding rivals have been welcomed to the negotiating table, Afghan civil society has been largely left out of the picture. The remit of this round of peace talks, organized by the U.S. President Trump with an electoral calendar in mind, were already drawn in the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020. This undermined the Afghan government’s goal to isolate the peace talks from the Taliban’s terrorist attacks. Irrespective of the power games at play, addressing the needs of the Afghan civil society will make or break the chances of long-lasting peace in the country.
Including Afghan women in the peace process is a chance to achieve sustainable peace. It will enable the deconstruction of patriarchal structures to modernize and break away from traditionally male-dominated practices of peacebuilding, instead fostering a culture of inclusion and empowerment.
Women: the Way to Sustainable Peace
Historically, peacebuilding practices have been male-dominated, focusing primarily on state security and neglecting important factors needed to make peace sustainable. Women’s experiences in conflicts make them acutely aware of the need to ensure human security, promoting socio-economic development and defending human rights. This renders women’s presence in the negotiation room crucial. Research on the durability of 182 peace agreements shows that, when women substantially influence peace processes, agreements are almost always reached, are more likely to be implemented, and are 35 percent more likely to last. The UN Security Council has also recognized that women, while historically underrepresented, are key to sustainable security and the modernization of traditional practices of peacebuilding. Involving women in peace processes incorporates their valuable perspectives and experiences on fundamental elements of sustainable peace, such as reconciliation, education, economic development, and transitional justice, in place of the spoils of the war.
Under pressure from world leaders calling for the meaningful participation of Afghan women in the intra-Afghan peace talks, both the Taliban and the Afghan government delegation engaged in discussions with the Afghanistan Mechanism for Inclusive Peace (AMIP). This independent and impartial mechanism is working towards ensuring that the voices and issues of Afghan civil society are heard at the negotiating table at Doha. Nonetheless, these peace talks run the risk of remaining a male-dominated and top-down state-centred endeavour, with an exclusionary negotiation format, lacking adequate representation of women, war victims and religious minorities.
Afghan Women: Changing the Course of History?
Despite this disappointing start, there are reasons for cautious optimism. The current involvement of women in peace-building activities at the state and local level in Afghanistan marks a clear break from a past which is scarred by a tradition of ostracism. Since the end of the Taliban’s regime in 2001, Afghan women have secured high public offices, and greater representation in parliament on the Loya jirgas and shuras. Their active role in drafting the 2004 constitution set the foundation for democratic governance in Afghanistan. As a result, about 15,000 women from 34 provinces gave their consultation on what peace should look like in Afghanistan. While some structural barriers have been surmounted, insidious challenges and hurdles for women in taking active roles persist.
Women and the Culture of Disempowerment
Afghan society still maintains many vestiges of a patriarchal legacy, posing hurdles for the inclusion of women. For example, a 2013 UN report found that sexual harassment remains pervasive in the Afghan police force, as about 70 percent of women within the police force have personally experienced sexual violence at the hands of fellow police officers. Breaking down patriarchal structures must be concrete and tangible, especially at the negotiation table for sustainable peace. It is oppressive environments that keep women in a disempowerment state, preventing them from expressing their full potential. All around the world, the disempowerment of marginalized groups contributes to emotions of self-consciousness, leading individuals to sever social ties and retreat from society, leaving them more exposed to general social distrust and social anxiety.
Solidarity: The Way Forward
To avoid further marginalization, the intra-Afghan peace talks must become more inclusive. The meaningful participation of minority groups, including women at the current peace talks, will enable prospects of sustainable peace in Afghanistan, and set a crucial, ground-breaking, and positive example for global traditionally male-dominated practices of state-building.
No peace will last without a change of attitudes towards the inclusion of minority groups. Empowerment at the personal, interpersonal, and societal level is a prerequisite for sustainable and authentic leadership and is only achievable through strong support systems, as exemplified by Philia, a global empowerment platform operating in Afghanistan since 2017. Such solidarity networks enable women, as well as marginalized groups of society, to reach their true potential, while substantially reinforcing social trust to foster the success of post-conflict peacebuilding. On this end, the Afghan government should seek to provide greater support towards leadership programs and networks aimed at nurturing a culture of empowerment and solidarity among marginalized groups, especially for women. It is the everyday battles that prepare women for a seat at the negotiating table and put human security high up on the agenda towards fostering sustainable peace.
This article was published in the context of a cooperation between the Policy Corner and Philia, a globally operating empowerment platform that spans over five continents. The Philia Method promotes empowering conversations for community-building and as a way towards equality and leadership.
This article was edited by Nicole Bogott. As a published author and entrepreneur Nicole Bogott analyses power dynamics in the international context. Her upcoming book and academic conference series evaluate the future of democracy. Nicole created Philia, a global platform on inner, relational and community dimensions of leadership. Further, Nicole has created impACT, a community-driven solidarity network.
Image by Kabul-based journalist Stefanie Glinski.
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 Beyond the adoption of a new constitution, a Loya jirga is a grand assembly called to choose a new head of state in case of their sudden death, and to settle issues of war.
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