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Dr. Helen Pankhurst

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Afghan Woman Have the Right to be Involved in Creating Afghanistan's Future

Posted: 28/10/2011 01:00

Eleven years since its adoption, once again, the international community will be debating progress towards implementing a UN commitment to ensure that women are included in peace deals.

Despite the welcome acknowledgement of the role played by three women, who were recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, around the world, the overall pace of progress is painfully slow - with only three per cent of signatories to peace agreements being women.

Last year, to mark the tenth anniversary of UN Resolution 1325, the Foreign Secretary launched a UK strategy to implement it, stating: "No lasting peace can be achieved after conflict unless the needs of women are met - not only justice for the victims of crimes of war, but their active involvement in creating a society in which their rights are respected and their voices are heard."

However, the real test of international commitments and supportive words is how far they are implemented in practice. In December this year, the international community will meet to begin discussions on the future of Afghanistan. If UNSCR 1325 is to mean anything, Afghan women need to be included in these talks, and the gains made in securing rights and representation in post-2001 Afghanistan must not be traded away.

The Constitution states that the citizens of Afghanistan, whether man or woman, have equal rights and duties before the law and there is some evidence of this starting to happen. The number of children attending school has risen from one million to five million, with over a third of those now being girls. New legislation seeks to protect women from domestic violence, and supports moves to end harmful traditional practices, such as forced marriage and baad, the practice of giving girls to end disputes. Furthermore, representation of women in parliament has reached 28% - compared with just 22% in the UK - a whole century after the suffragettes fought for the right to vote. All this in less than a decade since the fall of the Taleban.

We must applaud the achievements of women's rights activists across Afghanistan. Their participation in public life is an act of immense bravery, and their constant vigilance and chipping away at opportunities to insert women's concerns in discussions about the future of their country has led to many of the gains.

However, these hard-won rights are very vulnerable and in danger of being traded away in the search for peace.

A safe and stable Afghanistan is most likely to take root if the interests of women are embedded in peace processes, and their representation is not treated as some symbolic gesture brought out to prove that the situation is getting better - then ignored when 'the going gets tough'. Yet, powerful voices both in Afghanistan, and on the global stage, claim that women's rights will have to be sacrificed in any political settlement with insurgent forces. They deploy arguments of "real politik" and "culture" to imply that trading away women's rights is a precondition for peace. Yet if the guarantee for women's rights is stripped away from the Constitution, and violence against women becomes sanctioned, the building blocks of peace and stability are fundamentally compromised.

Aware of the dangers, women in Afghanistan, both individually and collectively, continue to stand up for their rights and remind the international community that for a decade, when convenient, they have used the liberation of women to justify their intervention. Afghan women have the right, the capacity and the desire to be involved in transition, peace processes and creating Afghanistan's future.

Furthermore, they have come together to agree and clarify priorities. The Afghan Women's Network, together with women's organisations from across the country, compiled a list of recommendations for their government.

A test case for whether women's interest and rights will be upheld is the upcoming major conference in December in Bonn, Germany. Some commentators have asked if representatives of the insurgency might be represented at Bonn. But what of the female 50 per cent of the population that are treated so differently, in so many fundamental ways? How will they be represented?

We must - consistently - support women in Afghanistan who are working at great personal peril to ensure that their government supports the building of a more democratic and decent society. Our government must also use its influence to ensure that Afghani women's voices are centre stage rather than side-lined or given tokenistic and ineffective attention.

For more information about the work of CARE International UK and their campaign asking the UK government to ensure that the voices of Afghan women are heard at the Bonn Conference please visit http://www.careinternational.org.uk/