By Alexandra Kilpatrick
March 14, 2016
Credit : Flickr user DFID-UK Department for International Development

Major world powers met to restore peace talks in Afghanistan in mid-January, but half the country’s population was missing: women. Though Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani promised to include women in the negotiations, they were absent from the talks both in July 2015 and women were in attendance. January’s talks, held in Islamabad, included representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China, and were part of a larger effort to end the 14-year war in Afghanistan.

“The President noted that in creating conditions wherein Afghan women, alongside men, could form a prosperous, fair, and purposeful society is a daunting challenge,” a statement from the Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, said. “The President stressed that women’s views and ideas should be respected as independent individuals not just in their secondary roles as mothers, sisters, or daughters. He also said that women’s perspectives should be an integral part of the decision making in the governing process. President Ghani said that in order to take into account women’s perspectives in a realistic manner, we should move from speech to action and come up with feasible plans. The President added that in the short, medium, and long term, the government budget should reflect spending on empowerment, participation, and creation of safe workplace for women.”

Despite this statement on the importance of respecting women and their ideas, President Ghani failed to include women in the peace talks in mid-January.

“In the extremely patriarchal society, women are subordinated legally, socially, and politically and women’s contributions economically and as positive agents of change continue to be underestimated and unrecognized,” Bethan Williams of the United Kingdom chapter of women’s rights organization Womankind Worldwide told Generation Progress. “The absence of women in the peace process is evidence of this continued lack of recognition of women as active agents and citizens of the country. The absence of women in the peace process replicates the de-politicization of women in conflict. Women are turned into victims of abuse rather than political actors themselves, which leads to continued normalization of the patriarchal exclusion of women in the public sphere and continues to justify the abuse and exclusion of women as passive victims.”

The issue of gender equality is a prime concern for Millennials, especially Millennial women. Generation Progress spoke to Piret Kuusik, an international affairs writer and blogger, about the peace talks and the consequences of the exclusion of women would have in Afghanistan.

“My first thought is that unfortunately, it is not a surprise,” Kuusik told Generation Progress. “Lack of women, both in negotiation delegations and also as participants, is a recurring problem in peace talks and negotiations–meaning that the needs of almost half of the population are most likely overlooked. In terms of Afghanistan, it is especially surprising, considering the fact that [the] situation of women has been in the agenda of donor countries from the start of their involvement. Taliban’s treatment of women has been brought forward as an argument for deeper engagement and surprisingly, the same donor countries taking part of the peace talks now have not turned much attention to that. Therefore, [there] is a conflict between rhetoric and the actual reality.”

Kuusik said that the lack of Afghan women at the peace talks could contribute to the systemic issue of violence against women and girls.

“Afghanistan is considered to be [the] most dangerous country for women,” Kuusik explained to Generation Progress. “When leaving women out of the peace talks, it means that this issue [of violence] will most likely not be addressed and [it] therefore continues to be a grave security concern in the society. The attitudes towards women will not be challenged and appropriate and necessary measures to improve women’s security and opportunities will not be discussed [or] developed. Bluntly saying — it is likely that [issues] regarding women will not be on the table and therefore allows the continuation of systemic violence against women.”

Williams agreed that violence against women and girls was a major concern in Afghanistan and that the lack of women at the peace talks could contribute to further violence.

“Womankind Worldwide works with three women’s rights organizations in Afghanistan, Afghan Women’s Resource Center (AWRC), Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA), and Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), to combat violence against women and girls and support women’s civic and political participation,” Williams told Generation Progress. “Our partners AWN and HAWCA have found that violence against women and girls in Afghanistan is based on patriarchal traditions that normalize it and render it acceptable. More frightening is the situation for those women who do speak out and wish to defend the rights of other women and participate in parliament. In a recent report by the Special Representative from the previous United Nations Secretary-General, Jan Kubis, told the United Nations Secretary Council that ‘the majority [of women killed] is linked to domestic violence, tradition, culture of the country, [but] women activists have been deliberately targeted.”

She continued:

“Conflict-related violence poses a huge risk to women. In 2014, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded the highest number of women’s deaths and injuries from conflict-related violence since 2009 when they began documenting civilian casualties, with 909 women casualties — 298 deaths and 611 injured. On average, more than 17 civilian women were killed or injured in conflict-related violence each week in 2014.”

Lack of female representation is not a problem unique to Afghanistan. According to a United Nations review of 31 peace processes across the world since 1992, women represent a mere nine percent of negotiators. The United Nations only recently adopted a resolution urging more involvement of women in peace talks.

Many women’s rights organizations are fighting for further women’s involvement in peace talks across the world. Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before women participate in the Afghan peace talks and more women participate in peace talks around the globe.

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