Foreign involvement in Afghanistan: can we stop pretending Afghan opinions are unknown/unknowable?

The civil society response to last month’s London conference on Afghanistan represented both Afghan and international organizations. However, the Afghan Women’s Network issued its own response to the conference communique. Re-posted below.

Reaction from Afghan Women Civil Society Leaders to the Communiqué of the London Conference on Afghanistan

By Afghan Women’s Network

Date: 29 January 2010

Occasion: Following the London Conference on Afghanistan, 28 January 2010.

The following statement was prepared and released by the Afghan Women’s Network following the London Conference on Afghanistan on 28 January 2010.

Background to Women’s Engagement in the London Conference on Afghanistan

The London Conference on Afghanistan on January 28th on security, governance, and regional cooperation concluded with important decisions on how to resolve Afghanistan’s conflict and governance challenges. Women of Afghanistan will be profoundly affected by these decisions, yet Afghan women were provided no official designation to feed into decisions nor negotiate conclusions In an event that spanned an entire day and included more than 70 countries, only a single Afghan woman was included to speak as part of the official agenda, co-presenting the concerns of Afghan civil society. Only through the help of BAAG in coordination with ACBAR, was she provided a few extra moments to also present a distinct message from the women of Afghanistan on their priorities for the future of the country to the assembled foreign ministers, military representatives, and other participants.

Afghan women will not be silent nor made to be invisible.

The Afghan Women’s Network, supported extensive consultations with Afghan women leaders preceding the London Conference and then provided for four Afghan women civil society leaders to travel to London during the conference proceedings to present women’s perspectives on security, governance, and regional cooperation. The result was a package of concrete recommendations, presented as the statement to the London Conference.

This statement sets out Afghan women’s demand that the proposed reintegration process is not undertaken at the expense of women’s hard-won human rights. It stresses the need to ensure meaningful representation of women in any negotiations and in all governance reform initiatives. It underscores the centrality of women to deepening democracy, combating corruption, and brining peace and stability to the country.

While in London, the delegates used every possible opportunity to spread the message of Afghan women to official delegates to the conference, including foreign ministers, office of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, SRSG to Afghanistan Kai Eide, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai. Their message was picked up by media throughout the world. Personally invited to the press conference of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, they were singularly recognized at the event by the Secretary for their courage and commitment to human rights.

Reactions to the Final Outcome Communiqué of the London Conference

The final communiqué of the London Conference clearly reflects the advocacy efforts of the Afghan women who traveled to London, and the document includes central priorities of the women of Afghanistan they were charged to represent. This accomplishment is recognized not only for the commitment of Afghan women, but also that of the Afghan government and its international partners to ensure that human rights must be at the heart of any efforts to seek a political solution to the conflict through negotiations and incentive packages directed to the Taliban. The women of Afghanistan endorse this provision and strongly recommend a rigorous monitoring system accompany any reintegration scheme to ensure women’s rights are not violated and that any such violation are aggressively and swiftly addressed as a national security concern.

Also warmly welcomed in the communiqué is the commitment to fully implement the National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan and the newly signed Elimination of Violence Against Women Law. Additionally applauded is the renewal of the Government of Afghanistan’s commitment to strengthen the participation of women in all Afghan governance institutions, including elected and appointed bodies and the civil service, To make these promises reality, the women of Afghanistan call on public decision makers to immediately develop a concrete strategy with meaningful affirmative action policies. Our more specific reactions to the official communiqué include the following recommendations:

On Security

  • The phased growth and expansion of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police must be accompanied by efforts to ensure the security forces have the protection of women as one of their main functions. This can be enhanced through recruitment of more women in all security sectors, investment in Family Response Units, and training for the security forces and the justice sector on the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law.
  • The Government of Afghanistan’s commitment to continue development of a National Security Strategy must be consistent with UN Security Council resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889. A National Action Plan on Women peace and security should be integrated as a core element of the national security policy, and a quota of women’s representation in all peace and security deliberations be established.
  • Women should be consulted by and represented by the authorities developing the national Peace and Reintegration Programme. The proposed Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund to finance the Afghan-led Peace and Reintegration Programme should ensure that a proportion of the financial incentives to communities to support reintegration are used to support women’s empowerment and development and the protection of their human rights through rigorous monitoring and redress.
  • A specific proportion of international donor assistance to be channeled through multi donor trust funds such as The Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan should be devoted to addressing women’s specific needs in the areas of reconstruction, rule of law, and access to formal justice.

On Governance

  • Women should be engaged in consultation to develop an overall plan for more effective and accountable national civilian institutions, including the civil service and the police.
  • The training for 12,000 sub-national civil servants at the subnational levels should include skills building in analyzing and responding to women’s development and security needs. Affirmative action policies should be developed to ensure a significant portion of sub-national-level civil servants are women.
  • The proposals for a new national policy on relations between the formal justice system and traditional dispute resolution councils must be treated as an opportunity to ensure that women’s constitutional rights are protected in any judicial or dispute resolution systems with an emphasiz on investing funds on the formal justice system.
  • Women must be centrally involved in all anti-corruption efforts to ensure that the specific forms of corruption that afflict them are addressed.

Next Steps

A clear agenda was established at the London Conference, including the announcement of an Af-Pak Peace Jirga, a Loya Peace Jirga, and the Kabul Conference. Each of these events provides opportunity for the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners to demonstrate the commitment articulated at the London Conference that reconciliation and reintegration will not take place at the expense of human rights and that women are central to bringing peace and stability to their country. Women must be fully represented at every stage of planning for these events and must be included at decision-making levels at the events themselves. In the months ahead, the Afghan Women’s Network will hold national consultations to prepare the women to participate and to be sure their perspectives are adequately represented in any decisions. We, the women of Afghanistan, are committed to working alongside the Government of Afghanistan and the international community to bring peace and prosperity to our beloved country and all of its people. We stand as full partners for the future of Afghanistan.

We extend our deep gratitude to international supporters who made this opportunity possible for the women of Afghanistan, in particular the United Nations Development Fund for Women, the Initiative for Inclusive Security, BAAG and ACBAR.

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