WOMEN AND THE PEACE PROCESS: AFGHANISTANWomen are frequently the main leaders of peace organizing initiatives at the community level, the regional level, as well as the national level. However, despite their active involvement as grassroots peace builders, women are rarely invited to take part in official peace processes. Since women make up half of the population and are the people doing the majority of the grassroots peace work, their exclusion from these political processes can jeopardize the popular acceptance of any peace agreement and the possibility of establishing a sustainable peace. The vital insights and interests of women are often not heard at the negotiating table.
Why Women Need to be Heard
The involvement of women in formal peace processes is essential because women can bring to the table an understanding of the challenges facing civilians and the best way to address them. Women rooted in their communities have valuable insights and experiences that differ from male combatants and politicians, as they are able to represent the needs of their community in various areas including education, health care, employment, and land distribution.
Outside Looking In
There are many reasons why women are not involved in the official peace negotiation process including gender discrimination and lack of formal political involvement. Gender discrimination in politics continues to be a major barrier to the inclusion of women in official peace processes because political institutions often perpetuate an exclusionary attitude toward women. As a result of this discrimination, many women choose to work outside of formal politics and within civil society organizations to advocate for social and political change.
Also, the opportunities for women in formal peace negotiations often depend on their political involvement prior to the peace process itself. It is often difficult for women to bridge the gap between peace activism and formal politics, and those who are successful at doing so often have support from the international community.
Hearing the Voice of Women
One way to ensure that women’s voices are represented at the negotiating table is through the use of quotas. Quotas would guarantee that a certain percentage of women would have to be present during the negotiating process as well as in government positions. Also, gender equality should be enshrined in a nation’s constitution and bill of rights in gender-sensitive language, which would make gender equality a political and legal issue. Furthermore, the international community must focus on supporting the peace process through the training and support of women’s organization and capacity building, and must maintain gender issues at the forefront of all of their work.
Women have made significant differences in the peace building process at the grassroots level in Afghanistan where decades of war have created an environment of insecurity and extreme poverty. The Afghanistan Women’s Council (AWC) in collaboration with War Child Canada has been working to provide women with the education, training and support necessary to become empowered and engaged citizens. The AWC is providing women with courses in basic education, in literacy, health education, parenting, conflict resolution, peace building, the environment, community leadership, rehabilitation, and micro-finance projects. With education, skills training, and financial opportunities, women are being given the means and resources to become fully self-sufficient, manage their own small businesses, provide their children with basic needs and an education, and actively participate in community and political affairs.
In addition to education and skills training, the AWC also offers a psychosocial rehabilitation program which includes training in self-esteem, interpersonal and inter-group relationships, stress, anger, and grief management, as well as individual and group counseling.
By focusing on women’s rights, education, skills development, rehabilitation and inner healing, the AWC is working to establish an authentic and sustainable security and peace that is so desperately needed for lasting social change in Afghanistan.
War Child Projects that Make a Difference:
To learn more about the War Child Canada/AWC project in Afghanistan, visit our international projects page here: http://www.getloud.ca/en/gpi_project.asp
Want to Learn More?
1. Women Building Peace Program: Gender and Peace Building
2. Women for Women International: Women, War and Peace Building
3. Council on Foreign Relations: The Role of Women in Peace Building and Reconstruction
4. Promoting Women in Development: After the Peace. Women in Post-Conflict Reconstruction