'Afghan women's engagement in decision-making processes remains symbolic'

TEHRAN, Dec. 07 (MNA) – Last week, the world community gathered in Geneva to review the progress made by the Afghan government and the challenges remaining in front of it. Many issues came up for discussion including governance, rule of law, fight against corruption, and ongoing peace talks with Taliban.

Samira Hamidi is an Afghan women’s rights activist focusing on women, peace and security as well as human rights and civil society. She has been the former director for Afghan Women’s Network.

In an interview to Tehran Times, Hamidi spoke about the Geneva conference on Afghanistan, peace negotiations with the Taliban, and why it's important to meaningfully engage women in key decision-making processes, including peace talks.

Following are the excerpts:

Last week's conference on Afghanistan in Geneva sought to measure progress made by the Afghan government in using billions of dollars in foreign aid since the last donors conference in 2016. How do you see the 'progress' in terms of reconstruction efforts and fight against corruption?

Since Brussels conference 2016, the government's efforts in addressing the reconstruction gaps and fighting corruption were highlighted as big achievements in the Geneva conference.

While there have been a number of development initiatives, there is little information available on how the menace of corruption is being combated.

The government has in the last year highlighted that some officials involved in corruption were caught up and prosecuted, however there is no proper monitoring and reporting to find out what happens to those arrested and how they are prosecuted. In most cases senior government officials, parliamentarians and senators intervene and support those who are found guilty.

Economically, the situation has worsened for normal citizens in the country. The exchange rate was 1 US$ to 47 Afghanis in 2016, and now it is 1 US$ to 75. With the jump in exchange, the prices have skyrocketed where the ordinary citizens are deprived of basic needs.

In a joint communiqué, the conference participants agreed that peace in Afghanistan must be based on a broad political consensus across the society. What is your take on this? And how can women be included in this process?

The peace process in 2010 started after 1600 Afghans from 34 provinces gathered at national peace consultative jirga and agreed on an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

The political consensus for the peace process is a very sensitive issue. While the Afghan government claims that it has consulted Afghans from a cross-section of society, the consultation has actually been limited to those groups that the presidential palace wanted.

In terms of women’s participation, while 370 women participated in national peace consultative jirga, women were included as members of high peace council (HPC) and provincial peace councils. There has been a huge gap in terms of their meaningful inclusion in discussions and decisions related to peace process, finding solutions and addressing the community’s needs.

Women are usually consulted by President for the women’s rights agenda. Women are not yet considered and respected as equal partners in key decision-making processes.

In order to include women, it is important to address it at different levels. In Geneva conference, three women were included with 9 men, as 12-member negotiation team for the talks. While this marked a big achievement for women advocacy, it is also important to push President and other actors to meaningfully engage women not only on women’s rights issues but on peace process, conflict resolution, conflict analysis and post-peace negotiation effort.

Recently, we have seen 'peace negotiations' with the Taliban facilitated by Moscow and Washington even as the insurgent group has upped the ante, carrying out attacks on civilians across the country. Do you think dialogue and violence can go together?

Afghanistan has entered a totally new phase of the peace process where the Taliban has showed willingness to speak to the United States and the government has come up with a roadmap to peace document and formed a negotiation team.

The current peace process in Afghanistan is at the pre-negotiation stage. At this stage despite the fact that both Afghan government and Taliban have shown interest in entering peace talks, the pre-conditions from both sides are dangerous and the reason for ongoing conflict.

Taliban by continuing their attacks, specifically on civilians, are trying to use their leverage of violence to force Afghan government to accept their pre-conditions.

Any pre-peace negotiation effort, either facilitated by a third party (here US) or held directly must conditionalize the ceasefire. Any effort without ceasefire will be in vain as the call of victims of conflict will be ignored and ordinary people will continue to pay the high price of their lives.

The war in Afghanistan has now stretched into its 18th year with no end in sight. Why has the US led coalition that invaded Afghanistan in 2001 failed in its mission to bring peace to the war-ravaged country?

There are many narratives regarding the failure of the US led coalition post 2001. Some of the major reasons would be, blocking the space for Taliban to participate in 2001 Bonn conference on Afghanistan, considering Taliban as an irrelevant insurgent group between 2001 and 2007 and not addressing the root causes of conflict at the national level.

At the international level, the US and other international actors shifted their priority very quickly from Afghanistan to Syria, Yemen and other conflicts. This enabled the Taliban to grow back from strength to strength, find internal influence, use opium for financial support and amass support among neighboring countries.

The US and other international actors also failed to support Afghan National Security Forces technically and equip them with the needed ammunition and equipment. After the 2014 withdrawal of international forces, which was a very irresponsible decision timed and choreographed wrongly, the Taliban used all their leverage to up the ante, using the weakness of the security forces.

Some of the attacks in last few years like the attack in Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Military Hospital, the army base in Balkh and Khost, the attack at Intercontinental Hotel or Serena Hotel, have shown that the Taliban are fully aware of the weak intelligence system, have influence and support from within the system.

All these attacks were never investigated. Despite huge number of human losses in each of these attacks, no one was held accountable or prosecuted.

Preparations are afoot for the presidential election next year, but the fear of fraud and violence looms large as was witnessed in 2014 elections and more recently in parliamentary elections. What needs to be done to address concerns regarding fraud and violence?

The independence of the Afghanistan Election Commission is one of the biggest challenges ahead of presidential election.

A couple of months back, an election commissioner resigned and spoke of the reason for his resignation, citing lack of independence and interference of President in the commission’s work. Since President Ghani is planning to run for the second time, he can definitely use the commission in his favor if drastic reforms are not immediately introduced in the commission.

Secondly, in the 2018 parliamentary election, the election commission failed to address the technical challenges in Kabul, which is the capital and where accessibility is not a major issue.

If the international community does not put pressure on the election commission for institutional changes, there can be massive fraud and irregularities in the presidential election next year.

The election commission members who fail to address these challenges should be immediately replaced with those with extensive knowledge in election matters and strong background on transparency and accountability.

What has been your personal experience as a women's rights activist in Afghanistan. Do you think women in Afghanistan have reclaimed their space in political and social sphere over the years?

Women in Afghanistan have reclaimed their space in a fair manner. It is good to witness presence of women in union cabinet, parliament, senate as well as different ministries, independent commissions and embassies.

It is also good to see a women representative in a body like High Peace Council. However, there is difference between representation and meaningful engagement.

While women have physical presence, their engagement at the national level, technical oversight as well as equal inclusion in national programs, discussion and decisions has remained symbolic.

Women recruitments have been mostly made based on favoritism and influence in the presidential palace, rather than merit, qualifications, experience and competence.

The recent appointment of three women in the peace negotiation team is encouraging, however, all the three women are holding key government positions — as an acting minister, a deputy minister and a member of parliament.

I wonder how they will be able to deliver in both the jobs. While it is same for men, but they can get away with their failings, unlike women. Those women who join the government mostly become silent. They stop advocacy efforts that the women outside the government are engaged in. This is another major reason where women are politically engaged but unfortunately also paralyzed to question the government in relation to its weaknesses and shortcomings.

Women have relatively found their social space. Presence of women in media, women’s movement, women NGOs as well as doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, government employees is encouraging. But Afghanistan is a diverse country where the living situation, the cultural and traditional practices vary from province to province.

While women's social presence is very strong in cities like Kabul, Balkh and Herat, it is also important to highlight that women are hardly found in public sphere in provinces like Khost, Kandahar and Kunar.

While Afghan government has legislations and polices in place, and is accountable to international treaties, there is a complete lack of political will at the provincial and district level. Women are not considered equal members of the society, they are not considered important to be consulted and they are not given any decision-making role.

Increasing insecurity, lack of implementation of law on ending violence against women, and continuous discrimination and harassment against women at work places and in society are also some of the problems that women in this country are facing.

Where do you see Afghanistan 10 years down the line?

With an accountable government that has a vision of peace, justice and inclusion, ensuring all citizens are safe and enjoying their most fundamental rights.

Interview by: Syed Zafar Mehdi

MNA/TT

News Code 140277

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