As the drawdown of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan continues, Afghan women leaders are awaiting the launch of a new Afghan National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security, which aims to engage women more meaningfully in the peacebuilding process.
Developed over two years, the National Action Plan was signed in Kabul last month. The NAP was drafted using a consultative process that included the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), an advocacy coalition of over a hundred Afghan women’s organizations. AWN also facilitated seven provincial consultations, gathering input from thousands of Afghan women on the document.
The NAP is expected to give women a larger role in all peace negotiations with the Taliban, an important consideration for scores of Afghan women leaders who have expressed concern that current negotiations threaten the real progress made by Afghan women since the collapse of the Taliban regime. Just this Monday, Oxfam released a report, Behind Closed Doors, detailing how Afghan women have been excluded from high-level peace talks with the Taliban or only marginally represented.
“We’ve always been concerned about the threat that our leaders will trade women’s rights away for peace,” Sara Surkhabi told the New York Times. Surkhabi, an Afghan Parliamentarian, is one of nine women on the 70-member Afghan High Peace Council. “We need to fight for our rights or we’ll lose all the advances we’ve won.”
The importance of Afghan women having a role in the peace process cannot be overstated. Afghan women have already participated in peace and reconciliation as members of Provincial Peace Councils, with many having worked directly with insurgent groups to help broker reconciliation processes, according to the Institute for Inclusive Security.
Women have much to gain through a National Action Plan that will prioritize women’s safety and security. Violence against women is endemic in Afghanistan. The need for more women in law enforcement and in the Afghan National Army is clear: only one percent of the national police are women and women make up less than 0.5 percent of the army. Lack of security forces many women, especially in the provinces, to forgo economic and educational opportunities, impacting re-development and cutting off advancement.
Women also have the most to lose in peace negotiations with the Taliban if they are not at the right negotiating tables. Let us not forget that the Taliban’s system of gender apartheid forced women out of public life, and left them without basic human rights, including access to health and education. Women now comprise 40 percent of primary school students and nearly 50 percent of healthcare workers. The maternal mortality rate – although still high – has plummeted. Millions of Afghan women voted in nationwide elections, and women make up 28 percent of Afghan Parliament.
And there is more to come. USAID recently launched its largest women’s empowerment program in the world in Afghanistan, proving up to $416 million for the education, training, and promotion of Afghan women in civil society, government, and business. But progress hinges on security and on the political will to include women in shaping the future of Afghanistan.
Now that the NAP is signed, it must be adopted by the President Ashraf Ghani and the National Unity Government. The NAP will help the country implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls on member states to include women in all aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding by ensuring that women have meaningful decision-making roles. SCR 1325 acknowledges that women are not simply victims of war but can, and do, provide necessary leadership to help ensure long-lasting stability.
Media Resources: New York Times 11/24/14; Oxfam 11/24/14; Feminist Newswire 11/21/14, 11/11/14, 4/7/14; Institute for Inclusive Security 11/19/14; The Daily Beast 12/21/13; Inter-Parliamentary Union 10/1/14; United States Institute for Peace; United Nations Security Council; Afghan Women’s Network