Afghanistan: Urgent need to include representatives of women's organisations and civil society organisations in the Bonn Conference - November 2001

On the eve of the Bonn conference, we repeat our call to the UN to support and facilitate Afghan women's involvement in peace and reconstruction processes.
WLUML believes that international efforts for the reconstruction of Afghanistan must promote a process guided by the Afghan people. Afghan women are half of the Afghan people - a fact too often and too easily forgotten. It is not enough to call merely for the representation of various ethnic communities and/or factions in the decision making and transition processes around Afghanistan. The presence of Afghan civil society, most particularly women, at the negotiation table and decision making of any peace process is vital.
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.

WLUML invites all Human Rights and women's organisations, social action groups, anti-war activists, and civil society in general, to extend or add to the main thrust of the document and 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 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.

C) 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.

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.

On 28 June 2000, several hundred Afghan women from all segments of the Afghan nation, assembled in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to write and promulgate a "Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan women".

The most extreme violation of human rights in the world has been vigorously put in place by official decree in Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban. For nearly 20 years, the condition of women’s existence in Afghanistan has been degraded; since 1994, however, the regime of the Taliban militia has officially taken away from women the right to education, to work, to health, as well as freedom of movement, rendering them practically prisoners in their homes, in the most extreme situation of material and moral destitution.

The Dushanbe conference was organized at the initiative of NEGAR-SUPPORT OF WOMEN OF AFGHANISTAN, an international organization established in 1996 by Afghan women to defend their rights. The members of NEGAR are Afghan women and non-Afghan women supporters.

With this Declaration, the Afghan women affirm and demand for themselves the rights which had been assured for them by the Constitution of Afghanistan of 1977, as well as the rights assured for all women by numerous international conventions and declarations. The Afghan women reject the false assertions of the Taliban militia that these rights are in contradiction with the religion, culture and traditions of Afghan society and nation.

We request that YOU do all in your power to intervene with your own political representatives as well as international political groups to persuade the American government, United Nations, international organizations, and all other concerned parties :

1) To integrate this Declaration as a part of the process for a just, honorable and durable peace for an Afghanistan which must be independent and free from all sort of racism. We believe that only by this means future tragedies will be avoided.

2) To exert pressure on Pakistan whose military, political, and financial support renders the Taliban regime possible.

3) To continue to deny recognition of the Taliban.

Recent history has demonstrated that supremacist and dictatorial regimes such as the Taliban maintain themselves in power only if the rest of the world remains silent.
Do not allow your silence to permit this human rights tragedy to cause further destruction!

Douchanbe, Tadjikistan, June 28, 2000

Section 1

Considering that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the international statements addressing the rights of women listed in Section II of this document,, are systematically trampled in Afghanistan today.

Considering that all the rules imposed by the Taliban concerning women are in total opposition to the international conventions cited in Section II of this document.

Considering that torture and inhumane and degrading treatment imposed by the Taliban on women, as active members of society, have put Afghan society in danger.

Considering that the daily violence directed against the women of Afghanistan causes, for each one of them, a state of profound distress.

Considering that, under conditions devoid of their rights, women find themselves and their children in a situation of permanent danger.

Considering that discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, ethnicity and language is the source of insults, beatings, stoning and other forms of violence.

Considering that poverty and the lack of freedom of movement pushes women into prostitution, involuntary exile, forced marriages, and the selling and trafficking of their daughters.Considering the severe and tragic conditions of more than twenty years of war in Afghanistan.

Section 2

The Declaration which follows is derived from the following documents :

- United Nations Charter
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
- Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women
- The Human Rights of Women
- The Beijing Declaration
- The Afghan Constitution of 1964
- The Afghan Constitution of 1977

Section 3

The fundamental right of Afghan women, as for all human beings, is life with dignity, which includes the following rights:

1- The right to equality between men and women and the right to the elimination of all forms of discrimination an segregation, based on gender, race or religion.

2- The right to personal safety and to freedom from torture or inhumane or degrading treatment.

3- The right to physical and mental health for women and their children.

4- The right to equal protection under the law.

5- The right to institutional education in all the intellectual and physical disciplines.

6- The right to just and favorable conditions of work.

7- The right to move about freely and independently.

8- The right to freedom of thought, speech, assembly and political participation.

9- The right to wear or not to wear the veil or the chadri.

10- The right to participate in cultural activities including theatre, music and sports.

Section 4

This Declaration developed by Afghan women is a statement, affirmation and emphasis of those essential rights that we Afghan women own for ourselves and for all other Afghan women. It is a document that the State of Afghanistan must respect and implement.

This document, at this moment in time, is a draft that, in the course of time, will be amended and completed by Afghan women.

For more information and to send your support, contact:

BP 10, 25770 FRANOIS
Tel./Fax: (33) 01 48 35 07 56 or (33) 03 81 59 04 39
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