Afghan women call for inclusion in decision-making ahead of Kabul Conference

18 Jul 2010

Afghan women call for inclusion in decision-making ahead of Kabul Conference

KABUL - Dozens of Afghan women from the provinces of Kandahar in the south to Takhar in the north are calling on Afghan leaders to give more visibility to women’s rights at the Kabul Conference on Tuesday, cautioning that unless more is done to include women in the national decision making, the progress towards women’s empowerment made in the past decade will be lost.

“We, the women from difference provinces, have come together to solidify our voices at the capital of the country,” civil society representatives wrote in a statement today following the two-day civil society conference in Kabul entitled Afghan Women’s Movement from First Women’s Council to Kabul Conference.

“Considering women’s unique experience of the war and deprivation, yet emerging as survivors, women’s potential and experience should be capitalized in the peace building effort,” the delegates wrote in the statement.

The agenda for the women’s movement conference focused on follow up to the recommendations made last month in the National Consultative Peace Jirga, where Afghan women were for the first time able to sit with an overwhelmingly male-dominated elite comprised of traditional elders, religious leaders and former warlords.

At the Jirga, recommendations were made to actively include women in all sections of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Plan, with the understanding that “women’s rights and achievements should not be compromised in any peace negotiations or accords.”

In today’s statement, the delegates stressed that while they “appreciate the support” of the Afghan Government and the international community over the past eight years, as seen in documents such as the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), the Afghan Constitution of 2004 and the National Action Plan for Women (NAPWA), their goal is to “bring a joint and collective voice of Afghan women” to the Afghan-led Kabul Conference.

The statement includes recommendations in the five key governance clusters – agriculture and rural development, human resource development, economic and infrastructure development, security and governance – which the delegates said they want to include in the Kabul Conference.

“We expect that the Kabul Conference will bring a stronger gender commitment and clear direction and priorities to the administration to implement the existing commitments to Afghan women, backed by increased resources and accountability of public officials,” the group wrote in the statement.

The conference was convened by Equality for Peace and Development (EPD) and the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), in coordination with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA), with funding by Counterpart International and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), following concerns that women, who constitute over 51 per cent of Afghan’s population, might be overlooked at the Kabul Conference.

“There is a need to consult the nation in a democracy. Women participation was very weak in the consultation process of the Kabul Conference preparations,” said Narguiss Nehan of the non-governmental organization Equal Opportunity for Peace and Democracy (EPD).

Similar complaints were made by other participants during a Question and Answer session with a panel which included Ashraf Ghani, who is overseeing the Kabul Conference, and Amena Afzali, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyred and Disabled.

The Afghan Government has requested that a representative of civil society sit at the table on Tuesday alongside the 40 foreign ministers and various deputy ministers and representatives of multilateral organizations, including the European Union (EU) and NATO, confirmed to participate.

The founder of AWN, Palwasha Hassan, has been chosen by her peers to present the women’s rights portion of the civil society presentation.

Calling the three-minute opportunity to speak on women’s issues before the world a “historic moment,” Hassan told UNAMA that the presentation “carried with it a big responsibility.”

The document unanimously adopted at the women’s conference will form the basis for her statement.

“The document is a living document and it is part of the Kabul Process,” said Staffan de Mistura, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, who took part in the women’s conference on behalf of the United Nations which is co-chairing the Kabul Conference.

The final statement “needs to be constantly followed up on with your inputs,” the Special Representative, who is also the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) told the participants.

On 12 June this year, de Mistura met with Afghan women leaders to mark the 10th anniversary of the UN “Open Days for Women and Peace.” The women voiced their proposals on how to strengthen their role in Afghanistan’s peace process.

By Nilab Mobarez and Paulina Kubiak, UNAMA