Tomorrow marks 10 years since the current Afghanistan conflict began. The protection of women’s rights in was promoted as a positive outcome. But there is a clear danger that US, UK and other world leaders might abandon women in a quick fix deal for peace.
Afghan women could face a dangerous future after 2014, if their concerns are not taken into account. These concerns are highlighted this week in a new report, out ‘A Place at the Table: Safeguarding women’s rights in Afghanistan’, co-authored by Oxfam and well-known Afghan academic Orzala Ashraf Nemat.
The report finds that there already has been a downward slide in the advances women began to make after 2001. Although that have been strong gains in girls’ education, with some 2.7 million girls in school compared to a few thousand in the time of the Taliban, other areas show patchy progress.
In parliament, a quota system put into place in 2005 guarantees 68 female MPs – there are now 69. However there is now just one female minister compared to three in 2004. The number of women in the civil service has dropped from 31% in 2006 to 18.5% in 2010.
In addition, the government’s ground-breaking Elimination of Violence Against Women law – which criminalises harmful traditional practices such as honour killings, child marriages and giving away girls to settle disputes – is only being enforced in 10 out Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. In the second quarter of 2011 alone, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission registered 1,026 cases of violence against women. In 2010, by contrast, there were 2,765 cases in total.
The report warns that in the context of recent upheavals, women’s rights are at risk falling further down the political agenda. The recent assassination of the head of the country’s High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, has underscored the volatile conditions that continue to plague Afghanistan – conditions in which the rights of women, once hailed as one of the cornerstones of stability, could easily be ignored.
Orzala states: “Recent history has been harsh to Afghan women – and we don’t want to see it repeated. We have made incredible gains in the last 10 years. Women are working as doctors, lawyers and businesswomen; and girls are at school. But what is life going to be like for us in the next 10 years?
“Already life is getting tougher for Afghan women. Afghan women want peace – not a stitch up deal that will confine us to our homes again. We are a voice that must be heard.”
There are just nine women on the 70-member High Peace Council, which was created to lead the peace process. The report urges the Afghan government and international community to use the run up to December’s Bonn conference, which will set the course for Afghanistan beyond 2014, to develop a more inclusive peace process which involves Afghan people from all parts of society, including women.
World leaders need to ensure that women play an active role in any negotiations and ensure that any political settlement with groups such as the Taliban will explicitly guarantee women’s rights.
They must also make sure that any peace deal includes benchmarks to guarantee women’s rights, such as monitoring the numbers of girls in school and the numbers of women in public life. The Afghan government and international community must ensure that there is meaningful participation of women in all peace processes at all levels – matching the government’s existing pledge of 30% of women in government bodies. Negotiations must ensure continued funding for services that support women, such as schools and leadership programmes as well as access to basic services, beyond 2014.
Louise Hancock, Oxfam policy advisor in Afghanistan and co-author of the report, recently said: “Afghan women tell me that they do not feel that they can count on any of the main players in peace efforts to safeguard their rights. They want a place at the table so that they can protect their hard-won gains. The greater stake women have in the peace process the more likely they are to support and promote reconciliation within their families and communities, which is essential for lasting peace.”
The forthcoming Bonn Conference on Afghanistan comes 10 years after the initial conference which laid the foundation for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. A lot of mistakes have been made over the last decade. World leaders must ensure that this time in Bonn we see more than just shop talk – and instead put forward concrete solutions to deliver a brighter future for Afghanistan.
The Afghan people deserve a real, just and lasting peace – not a political bargain that only serves the interests of a few.