KABUL: Calls for the increased protection of women’s rights, access to education and women’s inclusion in peace talks dominated discussions in the latest series of UN-backed events across Afghanistan.
Throughout March, grassroots events involving several hundred participants were held in more than 30 provinces as part of International Women’s Day to draw attention to the rights and leadership of women.
Critically, the events provided platforms for women’s voices to be heard on vital matters effecting society, as well as for extensive dialogue.
Each year the United Nations in Afghanistan drives efforts at inclusion with several thousand women, youth, minority and others enabled. Over the last two years the UN has given particular support to women, youth and others having their voices heard on peace.
“If the peace process is to be sustainable, the parties must look not to Afghanistan’s past, but to its future. Any peace settlement must take into account the views and the concerns of all Afghans – not just those of an elite few,” UN envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, told the Security Council in March. “As the international standard bearer for human rights, the UN is working alongside all of these groups and all Afghans to promote an inclusive peace, she said.
Ms. Lyons, who is also head of UNAMA, paid tribute to human rights defenders, the many civil society groups that have done tremendous work to make the process more inclusive – of women, of youth, of ethnic minorities, of victims of war.
“This is not the Afghanistan of 20 years ago! Both the peace process and any peace agreement must reflect the Afghan population of today… Half of the population of Afghanistan was born after the signing of the Bonn Agreement in 2001. This generation has grown up in a different Afghanistan – one in which young people aspire to a proper education; two, one in which women have access to positions of economic and political power; three, one where media play a vital civic role; and four, one where civil society has had the space to flourish. These Afghans are now a majority. They deserve to have their voices heard during the negotiations – and to have the inherent right to an active and substantial role in Afghan society after a peace agreement is concluded,” Ms. Lyons told the Security Council.
Participants in radio programmes, social media and other gatherings, that took place in locations including Badakhshan, Faryab, Ghor, Logar, Nimroz, Gardez, Parwan, Sar-e Pul and Zabul, voiced their support for women’s rights, including accessing education, justice, employment, and participation in the ongoing peace talks and other decision-making processes.
In Kunduz, activist, Marzia Rustami, has been at the forefront of a door-to-door campaign to include more women in the peace discussions.
“We listened to their concerns, their views and their suggestions about what they want from the ongoing Afghanistan Peace Negotiations. What motivated us has been our strong belief that the talks, and eventually, a final agreement, should reflect the views of all Afghans,” said Rustami.
In the south and eastern provinces, discussions focused on access to justice and making the workplace safer and more conducive for women.
Speaking on Nangarhar’s Radio Nargis, panellists discussed women’s rights to employment which they argued should be matched with practical measures to address workplace aggressions, including sexual harassment and intimidation, all of which serve to hinder women from taking up or staying in employment.
“We need policies to make the workplaces safer and friendly towards women,” said panellist and university student, Zabia. “Only then will women be more enthusiastic about joining public institutions.”
At another event in Kandahar’s southern province, participants stressed the link between women’s empowerment and access to justice. They argued that the more empowered women are, the more likely they will report harassment and seek justice.
“It is vital for women to be empowered, raise their voices and report cases of harassment at the workplace,” said Shukria, a women’s rights activist.
For panellist Fahima Wardak of Maidan Wardak province, education is not only critical but fundamental to changing women’s lives. Wardak made the case, on Ghag FM, for more robust strategies to make access to education a priority for women.
Echoing similar views, Zala from Paktia numerated improvements to women’s lives facilitated by education.
“Over the years, we have seen significant positive changes which are noticeable everywhere – in politics and other areas; because of education.”
This year, International Women’s Day, marked annually on 8 March, draws attention to women’s leadership and calls for an equal future in a covid pandemic world.
As the world grapples and looks to recovery from the pandemic, women have been at the forefront as leaders, health workers, caregivers and community mobilisers.
Yet, women have also been disproportionately impacted by the covid pandemic. Many pre-existing structural barriers – including poverty, inequality, illiteracy, unemployment and domestic violence – have increased.
Afghanistan has made strides in addressing women’s rights with legislation and in other areas. Nevertheless, alot remains to be achieved as Afghan women, especially those in remote provinces, sufer from abuse, inequality and poverty.
The UN maintains that alongside effective legal and institutional mechanisms for women’s empowerment and access to justice, stopping violence against women requires an effort from everyone, not only acting, but also speaking out against violence in homes, workplaces and social settings.
UNAMA is committed to supporting efforts by the Afghan government and is working with several institutions and actors to promote gender equality, help reverse inequality and support local program aimed at expanding opportunities for women.
UNAMA field offices in Bamyan, Central Region, Gardez, Herat, Kandahar, Kunduz, Mazar and Nangarhar have organized the events as part of a nationwide initiative to create platforms – using radio, television and social media – for local communities to engage in dialogue on pressing issues affecting their communities.