Afghanistan: 'A Living Draft' - Afghan women and the construction of Afghanistan

WLUML invites all human rights and women’s organizations, social action groups, anti-war activists, and civil society in general, to extend or add to the main thrust of the document.
WLUML also encourages you to distribute it as widely as possible to mobilize support for the immediate involvement of Afghan women in all post-conflict discussions, policy formulations, and reconstruction initiatives for Afghanistan.
As a first step towards articulating the issues that need to be addressed and means for ensuring that women inform the processes in Afghanistan, participants prepared the following draft position paper as a Living Draft. It is hoped this Living Draft will catalyse further discussion among Afghan women and activists regarding issues of peace and gender equity.

On 2 November, 2001, the international network of information, solidarity and support Women Living Under Muslim Laws brought together a group of women activists and scholars from Afghanistan, the Middle East, and other countries having experienced war, armed conflict and revolution to discuss the situation of women in Afghanistan.

The meeting, held in Montreal and sponsored by the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, aimed to facilitate a discussion on the current situation, the needs of Afghan women and to identify steps that would ensure that Afghan women’s voices are heard in national and international discussions concerning the current situation and the future of Afghanistan and that Afghan women are themselves represented in all such forums.

As women from Afghanistan and as women with first hand experience in conflict situations, the meeting participants pinpointed three critical concerns:

A) The absence of women from most of the international and national negotiations, discussions and processes focused on a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

B) It is not enough to merely demand women’s inclusion in the discussions/processes. There is an urgent need to articulate Afghan women’s concerns in key areas for the reconstruction to ensure that the reconstruction of Afghan society is informed by the perspectives of Afghan women.

The need for women to be key players in the rebuilding efforts and to ensure they have the support and means to do so effectively.

As a first step towards articulating the issues that need to be addressed and means for ensuring that women inform the processes in Afghanistan, participants prepared the following draft ‘position paper’ as a Living Draft.

It is hoped this Living Draft will catalyse further discussion among Afghan women and activists regarding issues of peace and gender equity.

Many participants of the November 2 meeting expressed profound concern at (a) the absence of women in the U.S.-led international coalition in the peacemaking and reconstruction processes for a post-Taliban government; (b) while the victimization of Afghan women is used by the coalition as part of its justification and legitimization for the bombing/military action, and while 'diplomats all talk about having to achieve a balance of tribal interests, there have been no official statements regarding the need to bring women into the negotiating process,' noted one of the participants. (Thus far the little effort that has been made to involve women has been initiated informally by international women’s organizations). Furthermore, so far, diplomatic missions have been made up almost exclusively of men, as if the U.S.-led alliance has no women officials in this capacity.

color=#000000>Participants pointed out some of the myths surrounding why women are absent from the process.

A) Women are excluded from the political process out of ‘respect for’ Middle Eastern or “Islamic tradition”. This is clearly only an excuse since Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey, and Bangladesh -- all populous Muslim countries -- have democratically elected female leaders. In Afghanistan itself women have participated in Loya Jirgas (grand consultations) in the past.

B) The claim that women are excluded because “Afghan women are not organized”: or: the situation is too complex to involve women, and so on.: Those familiar with the Afghan situation both inside the country but particularly among the millions of displaced Afghans outside the country know that Afghan women are organized. In fact while men have been at war with the Russians, and later on the side of various warlords armed by different outside powers, it has been women who have ensured the survival of their communities.

It is Afghan women and civil society groups who have actively organized and responded to the social and humanitarian needs of Afghan refugees as well as to those inside Afghanistan in the two major host countries: Iran and Pakistan (which together host some 4.5 million displaced Afghans). Moreover, many women's organizations have been active from within western countries.

If the coalition has trouble finding these organizations, international feminist groups will gladly provide them with a comprehensive list of all Afghan women’s organizations and community leaders.

The November 2nd meeting participants carefully considered and 'de-coded' the phrase the situation is complex - a comment made by, among others, Prendergast, Under-Secretary of Afghanistan (1st November 2001). They concluded that the phrase basically means that the coalition partners believe that were they to raise the issue of women and their rights, they risk losing the support of some of their overtly patriarchal, if only moderately fundamentalist allies within Afghanistan. Clearly the US-led coalition believes involvement of women is not worth that risk. The only images we have of consultations with Afghan leaders involve elderly male patriarchs and armed male fighters. If such 'representatives' were interested in or intent on insuring women’s human rights, Afghanistan and Afghan women would not be in their present state.

Drawing on their experiences, the women participants identified the following areas of central concern in the quest for an equitable incorporation of women into current and ongoing processes, to safeguard Afghan women’s rights and to ensure the active participation of Afghan women in setting the agenda and roadmap for a post-Taliban government.

As an immediate step, a task force of Afghan women activists, leaders, intellectuals should be established with international experts, particularly from the region, to examine the different experiences of other societies with respect to similar issues and situations. This task force should review the past experiences and mechanisms and recommend the best and most suitable mechanism for the Afghan context.

1 Consultation:
For every formal/informal consultation that takes place with Afghan men/leaders/soldiers /warlords/tribesmen, consultations must also be held with women community leaders/ activists/intellectuals/NGOs, of which there are many in Afghanistan, and among Afghan refugee and displaced populations. Of great importance, the UN and US-led coalition envoys must include women. This would in turn facilitate inclusion of Afghan women in the process.

2-Peace Keeping:
Work to ensure that peacekeeping operational mandates specify consultation with and the protection of local women when designing and implementing humanitarian and development programs. Every effort must be made to avoid top-down approaches or consulting only those perceived as male power brokers since this greatly deters local participation and contributes to a lack of trust, in turn often leading to the failure of such programs

3–Post-Taliban Constitution:
To safeguard and insure women’s rights, the constitution should guarantee not only equal rights of women and men in all spheres of family, social, economic and public life, it should also recognize the following principles and clearly enunciate them in the constitution:

- Women should be actively encouraged and supported to participate fully in the political, economic and social life of Afghan society including by affirmative action measures.

- Any national law (including family code) that takes away the rights given to women by Constitution should be void.

- To insure a voice for women at all level of government, 33% of total seats should be reserved for Afghan women by direct election at all national and local elections, for a specified period of time (i.e. 30 years).: (Pakistan, following some other South Asian countries, has adopted a reserved seats system that can be used as a model).

- In line with actively encouraging women’s participation, and given the gender segregation among some segments of Afghan society, elected women’s jirgas (caucus /council) should be instituted at national, provincial, local (city/town/village/tribal) levels. This caucus should assume responsibility for monitoring and researching local and national issues such as education/ welfare/environment/health. This women's jirga will also be responsible for ensuring that the human development budget is equitably allocated between men and women. Some funds should be earmarked for decision & administration by the women’s jirga.

- Women’s rights to gainful economic activity and mobility should be guaranteed.

4-Family Laws:
Given that family law is among the most important codes determining the position of women in any society, a special task force made of women experts and activists and women’s organizations from Afghanistan and the international community --particularly from Muslim countries (Women Living Under Muslim Laws, Muslim Women's Research and Actions Forum in Sri Lanka, Shirkat Gah in Pakistan, the Roshdieh Institute in Iran, Sisters in Islam in Malaysia, among others) should be set up to look at past experiences and expertise and to suggest guidelines for a family code. One of the concerns of this working task force will be to devise a family code, which will reinforce equity and will not compromise the rights granted women by the Constitution. A democratic family code and family structure is an important tool for insuring a democratic society.

5- Female Education:
To insure that women will have access to education, which in turn will ensure their active participation in rebuilding Afghan society, teacher training (including adult education) must be established immediately as well as colleges for women, to create the pool of teachers needed for educating women and female children. Particular efforts must address remedial educational needs of girls and young women denied education in recent years. A curriculum based on gender equity must be developed as an integral part of these programs. A mechanism must be put in place to ensure women have equitable access to higher education. Fifty percent (50 %) of medical school seats should be reserved for women to ensure access of women and children to healthcare.

6- Health and Reproductive Rights:
Access to health care is a human right; presently Afghan women and children’s health status are among the worst in the international community. There should be immediate training of medical and para-medical personnel, particularly in the areas of reproductive health and child health, in order to respond to this urgent situation. Drawing on previous and ongoing successful initiatives in the region as a model, health initiatives should invite the support of organization such as Doctors Without Boarders, Save the Children Fund, UNICEF, Medact, and the World Health Organisation, which have experience in Afghanistan. Experienced Afghan medical personnel, particularly women, and the large number of Afghan volunteer health workers in Iran can provide valuable contributions.

7- Housing, Land and Job-training:
Given the substantial number of female-headed households, the national and international funds directed to the reconstruction of Afghan society must give priority to job training, housing and land titles for women directly. Women must be prioritised in shelter programmes and their particular needs met. Every effort should be made to insure that women in all corners of Afghanistan have access to these programs.

8-National Media:
Special care should be exercised in local Afghan media representation of women and women’s roles in society; the media must help challenge ideologies that discriminate against women.

9-Moblization and Leadership Training:
Funds should be made available to experienced Afghan women’s organizations and international women’s organization to organize leadership training for Afghan women in order to promote the establishment of an active civil society as well as to establish or expand NGOs operating on behalf of women.