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Afghanistan: without women, peace will not last

12.09.2019, "Women, Peace & Security", conference in Bern

Interview with Dr Sima Samar, Special Envoy on Human Rights and State Minister on Human Rights and International Affairs in the Afghan government and Coordinator for PeaceWomen Across the Globe in Afghanistan. She will be speaking at a conference on “Women, Peace and Security” in Bern on 18 September 2019.

Afghan women’s and civil society organisations have long been advocating for their inclusion in the peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. Women in particular have much to lose if the peace fails. Without their meaningful participation peace will not last, says Sima Samar, coordinator of PeaceWomen Across the Globe in Afghanistan.

In the past 18 years, Afghan women and girls have regained freedoms stolen during the reign of the Taliban. In education, the economy, health care and in politics, their gains have been significant – but these are fragile. At the start of the negotiations, no women sat at the table. Women’s groups, civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights and peace activists like Sima Samar have pushed for the inclusion of women, victims of human rights violations and CSOs. Thanks to their persistent advocacy, a few women and CSOs joined the recently stalled peace talks. Questions remained, how meaningful their inclusion truly was.

“In my personal view, it is not enough,” says Sima Samar, Special Envoy for Human Rights and State Minister on Human Rights and International Affairs in the Afghan government. Women are worried, particularly those who know their rights and lived through the Taliban regime. She argues that women who experienced the Taliban regime first-hand should be part of the negotiations rather than women who spent their lives abroad and don’t know the reality of rural Afghan women.

Women building alliances

Rights and freedoms apply to everyone, men and women, rural and urban, she says. She criticises the arguments put forward by some men that first the blood shed must stop, women’s rights can be dealt with later. Or that the rights of some women are more important than those of others. “That attitude is wrong,” she says. “If women are not free, then society is not free. That is not peace.”

In order to advocate for women’s inclusion in the peace negotiations, women have been building alliances with men who themselves are advocates for human rights and who believe in democracy and gender equality, she explains.

After a year and nine rounds of negotiations, a peace agreement was apparently within reach. Now peace is teetering on the edge of failure. The attacks in Afghanistan in recent months and the announcement by President Trump on 9 September that the US is pulling out of the negotiations have cast even more doubts that peace will come to Afghanistan any time soon.

“The bad deal is postponed”

But most Afghans were unaware of the contents of the US-Taliban negotiations or the four aims that the United States pursued, including the intra-Afghan dialogue that was to follow the negotiations. Sima Samar says that the majority of Afghans were suspicious of the process, partly because of the lack of transparency and largely because too many failed political deals have eroded the Afghans’ trust in the negotiations.

The Afghan government was not represented in the negotiations. President Ashraf Ghani announced 12 names of the government representatives last November. But the list was “not received well by the people – it was not inclusive”, Sima Samar says. Now Afghans “are happy that the bad deal is at least postponed for now”, she says. “We hope that the intra-Afghan dialogues will start and that they include the meaningful participation of women, civil society and victims.” She also hopes for a strong political will “on both sides.”

“We need to learn from our past experience and mistakes and not repeat them.” Without women’s meaningful participation in the process, “it will not be complete and an incomplete process will not be sustainable or successful,” she says. “Women should be part of planning for peace. They should be at the negotiation table. And they should be part of the implementation of the peace agreement.”

Women’s Peace Tables “builds confidence”

At the Women’s Peace Table in Kabul, held on 15 January 2019, Afghan women were provided the opportunity to share and discuss their views about peace in their country. As PWAG’s Coordinator in Afghanistan, Sima Samar was instrumental in organising this Women’s Peace Table, a concept launched by PeaceWomen Across the Globe and used around the world to provide safe spaces for women peace activists. Political and religious leaders, women’s rights activists, the media, international organisations, youth and civil society activists joined in the discussions in Kabul.

Women’s Peace Tables raise women’s awareness of their rights and prepare them to demand their rights by building their self-confidence, says Sima Samar. The current situation in Afghanistan requires more of these kinds of activities, she says, providing safe spaces for women and for youth of both sexes “to stand united for human rights and equality for a better future for Afghanistan.”  

Read more information on the conference here.