Peace activist mobilizes rural women in western Afghanistan

25 Aug 2017

Peace activist mobilizes rural women in western Afghanistan

HERAT - Following the lively debate at a UN-backed women’s peace conference in April, a Herat activist has carried forward her vision for women’s involvement in conflict resolution and recently organized her own symposium for some 60 women in a remote district of the western province.

“Women in the western province are determined to be a part of bringing peace to the country, and will not wait for anybody’s permission to do so,” said Shakila Haqdoost, Head of the Women’s Council in Herat’s Ghoryan district, in an interview with the United Nations following the peace symposium she organized for women in her district.

Ms Maqdoost says the framework for women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-building exists in Afghanistan’s National Action Plan, which is based on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Security Council Resolution 1325 reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction. It stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

Earlier this year, in April 2017, a western regional conference on women and peace took place in Herat. That conference was led by the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Dilbar Nazari, and the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Jamila Afghani, and was organized by the Herat regional office of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

UNAMA’s political chief, Pernille Kardel, spoke at the April event to stress the importance of Afghanistan’s peace process involving people from all walks of life, social groups and ethnic communities.

She underlined the critical importance of including Afghan women. “We must have an expanded role for women and girls in the home, community, schools, at mosques and in workplaces,” she said.

Ms Haqdoost, who was present at the April conference, says she took those words seriously. Three months later, in a mud-brick house used as meeting place for the Women’s District Council, she gathered 60 women from several Ghoryan villages to strategize on transforming Afghanistan’s National Action Plan on Security Council Resolution 1325 into local action.

“We need to convey our message to the government and people that even with the difficulties and challenges we face, we can hold such conferences in remote areas,” she said to the women gathered for the meeting. “You are brave women, and you have the courage to bring peace and stability to your villages and to your country.”

Ms Haqdoost says the discussion focused on ways to address the specific problems in Ghoryan, a district that has a high poverty rate coupled with reportedly high levels of drug addiction. The district is located on the border with Iran, a 1.5-hour drive from the provincial capital.

“If we do not fight for our rights and for peace and security for our families, we will not see any positive change,” she told the Ghoryan women.

Working in groups, the participants explored ways to increase women’s engagement in the peace process in line with Afghanistan’s responsibilities under Security Council Resolution 1325 and its commitments under the National Action Plan.

At the end of the conference, participants agreed to work together to increase awareness of women’s rights, particularly in rural areas, and to focus on highlighting the effective role women can play in promoting peace.

In addition, they proposed a restructuring for the District Peace Council to prioritize women’s participation in the peace process, and resolved to lobby local government officials toward that end.

“The women’s conference organized by Ms Haqdoost shows the level of interest among women in being drivers of positive change, not only at the level of provincial capitals, but also in the villages,” said Primrose Oteng, a Political Affairs official working at UNAMA’s Herat office.

“Localization of UNAMA’s initiatives in support of the mission’s vision for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, where Afghan people, including women, lead and own their own peace processes, is what we are looking toward,” she added.

UNAMA has been working with local communities in the western region, and in other areas of the country, to create platforms using radio, social media and television for Afghans to engage in local dialogue and discuss pressing issues affecting their communities, notably the importance of local-level peace initiatives and the participation of women at all levels of Afghan political and social life.

UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides 'good offices' among other key services. 'Good offices' are diplomatic steps UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

UNAMA also promotes coherent development support by the international community; assists the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.