Afghan women activists will fight for their place at the table

Afghanistan’s women know this will be a year of game-changing decisions in their country, and they want to be part of the decision-making process. Two recent articles highlight this.

Kathleen Parker at the Washington Post describes meeting Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi and Shukria Asil, recipients of the International Women of Courage Award:

Speaking through interpreters, the two women reiterated a dominant theme that was repeated over and over during several days of events honoring brave women around the world.

“We are not victims.”

Yes, of course, many have been victimized by brutal regimes in some cases, or by cultural forces, or by men who have hijacked religion to justify actions that would be treated as crimes in our part of the world. But these women are not seeking restitution; they are seeking empowerment.

This is a crucial distinction that underscores the courage they display in the routine machinations we call everyday life.

Female judges kiss their families goodbye in the mornings and make peace with their maker just in case they don’t return. Parents send their daughters to school despite assaults such as the acid attacks on 15 schoolgirls and teachers in 2008.

For Eurasianet, Aunohita Mojumdar writes about the emergence of a vocal and increasingly united women’s movement based in Kabul. Women activists worry they will not be meaningfully included in coming decisions of war and peace, and are gearing up to oppose their exclusion.

Women are not welcome at the negotiating table, complains Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a human rights activist and a leading member, like [Palwasha] Hassan, of the Afghan Women’s Network. “They need to be part of designing the peace and reconciliation process,” Nemat said, noting that only one female delegate was invited to January’s London Conference, a gathering that mulled the future of the Afghanistan stabilization process. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].Though attendees of the London Conference and others have offered assurances that women’s rights will be upheld, Afghan women are not relaxing. “How much of the constitution is being implemented now?” asked Nemat. “Right now we don’t have a Taliban system, but an elected government, and yet there is no guarantee for women’s rights.”

Nemat is busy mobilizing women for meetings with stakeholders, domestic and international. “We would like to know the details and nitty-gritty of the [peace] process and who is going to sacrifice what [in reconciliation],” she says.

The right women need to get into the process, argues Nargis Nehan, director of Equality for Peace and Democracy, a civil society group working with women and youth. While agreeing that guns and money have played a larger and more influential role in Afghan politics to date, Nehan said she is placing her faith in the growing number of women activists coming together.

Collaborating with the Afghan Women’s Network, Nehan has been holding a series of meetings with other activists and urging Indian and Pakistani women to convene a meeting of the ‘Women’s Trialogue.’ The trialogue initiative has so far held two meetings in support of peace among the countries, and Nehan hopes the next gathering will strive to support the efforts of Afghan women, and add muscle to their civil rights demands.

Cooperation between Afghan women activists on this scale is new. Though active since 2001, the efforts of various women’s rights organizations have been scattered and sometimes competitive, says Hassan, who feels she did not get enough support from women MP during her unsuccessful confirmation process.

“We don’t see each other as complementary,” she says, attributing the weakness of the movement to the long period of disempowerment. But, as the women’s movement is now starting to come together, Hassan is preparing for a struggle. “We have to be ready for a fight,” she asserted.

And a fight is coming. In fact, it has already begun.

One thought on “Afghan women activists will fight for their place at the table

  1. Great post. I thoroughly enjoyed. Was thinking of posting to Twitter so others could read, but not certain if it would be an intrusion.

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