Quhramaana Kakar Anwarzai
By Dr Musarat Amin and Quhramaana Kakar Anwarzai
July 3, 2018
The discussion around women’s rights and equality is becoming more significant every day, with renewed efforts taking place at all levels to promote these two essential ideas. However, despite current efforts, women’s needs are rarely included in any meaningful way in peace building processes. The conflict in Afghanistan has taken four long decades with no indication of its end in the near future. Despite regional and political obstacles that keep conflicting sides from coming together, people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are directly affected by the conflict continue to come together and make an effort to change the current status quo in order to get rid of the decade long instability in the region.
Women of the two countries share a history of living in a patriarchal society and facing systematic misogyny in the name of culture and religion. Societies and governments in both countries have often undermined women’s effective role in decision-making.
Women’s narratives of peace building have often been ignored, while the rare revelation of their account is very submissive and is not encompassed in serious decisions affecting peace and conflicts. Nevertheless, based on their experiences of war, conflict, and peace building, women continue to come together to try to offer possible solutions for sustainable peace and security in the region. According to the Peace Insight Organization, women’s participation in the peace building process is crucial, as they offer starkly different perspectives to men.
The role of women peace builders has been recognised by international organisations and notable individuals, which include Malala Yousafzai, Ellen Johnson Sir leaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karaman and many more.
Wars cannot end by simply declaring peace; there is a need for serious measures that promote cross-border interaction between people of both countries. However, special emphasis should be given to the promotion of the role of women in peace building. Even during various rounds of parley between both the countries, they should be on the negotiating table.
A significant change can only begin from the grassroots, and women working at that level face fierce opposition from their own male family members. The problem is that men have attached their so-called honour to women, and don’t allow them to act in any way that they feel might affect that honour.
At least efforts at the state level can improve the situation. Firstly, exchange programmes need to be introduced, as women from Afghanistan and Pakistan can benefit from an exchange of ideas and inspire each other to play a significant role in peace building. Another way of promoting women’s participation is to establish women-only political parties, as seen in Ireland in the past.
Even the United Nations (UN) urges the promotion of women’s rights. United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 2245 are very important in this regard and all the member states of UN are supposed to implement these resolution. UNSCR 1325 reaffirms the role of women in peace negotiations, peacekeeping, peace building and prevention of conflict. The most important part of the resolution stresses the need for equal participation of women in maintaining and promoting peace and security.
At present, the situation is not too favourable. The average years of schooling for females in the country stand at five years and only 24 per cent of all women are employed, while their representation in the parliament stands at 20 per cent only. The National Commission on the Status of Women was founded in the year 2000 and was established with the sole purpose of examining policies and measures taken by the government to promote gender equality and review laws affecting women and their rights. India has already established a ministry of women and child development in 2006, and a similar ministry in Pakistan will be quite beneficial as well.
The Human Rights Index of 2016 placed Pakistan at the 147th position in the world, and Afghanistan at the 169th spot, making both countries terrible places for women. To uplift standards of women rights and improve their rankings on the Human Development Index; a fruitful effort can be made at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) forum. Though SAARC has been a failure in resolving political disputes, it still has the potential to promote socio-cultural cooperation among South Asian countries. Special attention should be paid to Afghanistan and Pakistan as both have been through hard times of war against terrorism.
Hillary Clinton once remarked: “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world”. A country does not make progress until women participate equally towards national cause.
Dr. Musarat Amin teaches Peace and Conflict at Fatima Jinnah Women University and Quhramaana Kakar is an Afghani peace activist, based in London