First Lady of Afghanistan Rula Ghani spoke at the U.S. Institute of Peace last Wednesday to discuss the role of women in the peacemaking process. Women in Afghanistan have largely been left out of these conversations in the past, however, the First Lady stated that Afghan women, “are no longer going to wait for peace to fall in their laps. They’re going to work for it.”

Since her husband took office, Rula Ghani has been an advocate for women in Afghanistan. She has promoted education for girls and has worked to improve women’s representation in schools and within public offices. In her first speech as First Lady, Rula Ghani encouraged women to expand their roles and work outside of the home, an idea that 74 percent of Afghan people now agree with, a record high. In addition, a large majority of Afghans (80.7%) agree that women should have equal opportunities to men. But when women were asked to name the greatest challenge they face, 36.1 percent voiced concern over illiteracy and access to education.

After opening remarks by Nancy Lindburg, the President of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), First Lady Ghani elaborated on the importance of Afghan women having a voice in ending conflict, remarking, “I’m encouraging women to foster social peace in Afghanistan.” She discussed the positive outcomes of the Women’s Symposiums that have taken place across Afghanistan, which have provided women the opportunity to come together as Peacemakers and share their perspectives and experiences.

The United Nations says women play key roles in conflict and peace, but are often left out from peace negotiations. In the 31 of most important peace processes between 1992 and 2011, women made up less than 3 percent of chief mediators and 9 percent of negotiators. Women often play creative roles in preventing and resolving conflict as facilitators in re-building societies, caretakers of those affected by war, and influences to armed groups and civilians.

Following First Lady Ghani’s speech, she participated on a panel and was asked on more than one occasion how women can become more involved in promoting peace and conflict resolution. Additionally, First Lady Ghani spoke about whether men see women as peacemakers and as credible participants within the workforce, remarking, “Men are not necessarily against women in Afghanistan, though they have been portrayed like this.”

The panel recognized that there is still much progress to be made for women to be fully accepted as leaders and contributors striving for peace within Afghanistan. Recently, Masooma Muradi, the Governor of Daikundi, Afghanistan was removed from office after receiving continued opposition due to her gender. Muradi was the only female Governor in Afghanistan, and her position has now been filled by a man.

Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA) shared that during her experiences in Afghanistan, she witnessed the measures that women in the workforce must take to protect themselves. She shared that women working in law enforcement have recognized that wearing their uniforms on the way to and from work put them at risk of violence. As a result, they often wear street clothes during their commute.

While discussing the ongoing violence towards women, the panel discussed the importance of education as a method of prevention. Institutional changes would also provide improvements for women and creating safe spaces for them to share their experiences could help to empower women to speak up within their communities. Another crucial element to addressing violence against women would be providing access to information regarding ways of navigating the legal system to ensure that women receive fair treatment.

In closing, First Lady Ghani discussed her motivations. “Violence is the obstacle; we have learned to move on. The answer to all this violence is to create a country that is strong and unified and that is working for unity and peace.” She continued, “We need to carry on, that is the only way to stop the violence.”

 

Media Sources: USIP 2017, New York Times 10/14/14, The Washington Times 5/27/15; United Nations; Feminist Majority Foundation 10/10/17