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Women and sustainable peace - reflections from Afghanistan

Time (GMT +00) 14:00 15:30

Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar
- Minister of Women's Affairs, Afghanistan
Professor Deniz Kandyoti - SOAS
Steven Schoofs - Gender Manager, International Alert

Dr. Nicola Jones - Research Fellow, Social Development Programme, ODI

Nicola Blackwood MP - Chair, Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security

Nicola Blackwood MP welcomed the Afghan Women’s Affairs delegation, noting that it was the 1st occasion in which the Group has supported an Afghanistan-focused event. The speaker started by outlining the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security's ongoing support and commitment to the Afghanistan Country Action Plan – working with government  to respond to the increased implementation of UN resolution 1325.

Guest speaker: Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar,Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Afghanistan

  • Began with an outline of the broad interest in this topic gathered through her circulation with parliament and media over the past months
  • Spoke of significant changes in the Afghan context over the past 9 years – and the numerous achievements on gender equality – such as increased attendance of girls in schools at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, as well as the presence of female teachers in these institutions. This trend was also noticeable in local government, central government and the private sector.
  • These achievement were supported through the National Action Plan (10 year focus), with gender participation goals in areas such as lower education, higher education, health, justice, private sector, political participation – all streamed and coordinated across a number of ministries for the first time
  • Outlined that coordination and government participation in NGO projects is often limited, with little formal connections to the action plan. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs welcomes increased interaction and coordination on this issue – indeed a number of International donor agencies have accepted the terms of the action plan and the need for domestic evaluation mechanisms to be utilised.
  • Declared that the core message of the MOWA is ‘peace with justice’ – which basically aims to retain the gender equity advances of the past 9 years through the national action plan. The British government is welcomed in supporting this venture.

Discussant: Prof Deniz Kandiyoti, SOAS

  • The speaker began by reflecting on the state of the international community in supporting women’s rights – declaring that although there has been some progress in Afghanistan, the promises made during the 2001 international agenda/campaign were never met, and that compromises on these ideals are still being made in 2010.
  • Noted that CEDAW, while demonstrating extraordinary progress in women’s rights on paper, has also facilitated reporting capacity being built centrally on the basis of donor accountability, rather than NGO services as decided and directed by national organisations and fora.
  • On reflecting on the National Development Plan, stated that the document puts the onus of empowerment on gender mainstreaming and gender focal points in all ministries, while little supporting research on the actual effects of gender mainstreaming policy outcomes in the country.  Meanwhile, a related issue was that the concept of mainstreaming is not necessarily transferable due to the previous role of women’s shuras being the original function through participation was conducted and ensured, and thereby more intelligible to national cultural systems.
  • Declared that a major shortcoming of the mainstreaming agenda was that efforts were concentrated on line ministries in Kabul, with little regional outreach, so the coordination became complicated. The centralist impulse thereby failed and local governments increasingly turned  back toward  shuras and jurgas – but compliant with universal norms of human rights. As a result, the women’s movements were extremely wary of this drift, given the history of local implementation.

Steven Schoofs - Gender Manager, International Alert

  • Began with a discussion of the case of Liberia due to the usefulness in exchanging ideas and perspectives in conflict affected countries, guided by a strong National Action Plan and contexts attempting to implement 1325 with limited institutional capacity.
  • Outlined where and how women played active and visible roles (well documented) in the peace process through demanding inclusion – eventually becoming signatories of the final agreement.
  • Discussed the recent shift from peacemaking to peace-building in Liberia, i.e.  –the struggle to gain development/rehabilitation knowledge grounded in communities, with local  knowledge about what is needed to fulfil 1325 feeding upwards from the ground. The practical knowledge gathered so far demonstrates there are gaps in peace-building at higher levels – and the innovation is not efficiently filtered upwards.
  • The speaker also noted that prevailing funding regimes trap short-term community work, without transfer from projects to institutions in a centralist approach. Additionally, funding for the NAP is limited – both at community/civil society levels, but also within ministries – culminating in a serious risk that the NAP will be  poorly implemented.
  • The speakers priority message is that peace-building efforts are not gaining sufficient traction with policymakers and that there is a risk with top-heavy institutions not innovating and building knowledge/research from the grassroots .

Dr. Nicola Jones – Research Fellow, Social Development Programme, Overseas Development institute

  • The discussant began in outline the recent interest and dialogue on resolution  1325 – i.e. UNIFEM’s ‘count for peace’  initiative, as well as the coordinating function and enhanced power of UN Women
  • In feeding back on the presentations, the discussant recognised that gender issue challenges are multi-dimensional  - requiring corresponding responses to obtain a sustainable and gender equitable peace.
  • Highlighted that economic insecurity in these discussions are often overlooked – important as it hinders involvement in the peace-building efforts of women. Noted that economic empowerment is a critical component, alongside prominent interest in social protection , which can provide the fallback measure for a stable society – a case in point being cash transfers in post-conflict scenarios in South America – although these lessons must be explored more widely.
  • Informed the audience of a new tool – SIGI index – which aims to go beyond conventional measures to look at socio-cultural institutions (discriminatory family codes, son bias, limited resource rights and entitlements, physical insecurity and restricted civil liberties). While there are strengths and weakness of this approach, it does spotlight the particular undermining factors to reach equality.
  • Outlined another key factor – finding ways to support GROs and long-term institution building in order to reflect on how these practices can be scaled-up and lessons transferred


Q: In order to progress on women’s rights – where do you see the role of the UK government?

A: The role of the government is to support the Afghanistan MOWA in accordance with the national action plan – and that while there are many projects in Afghanistan – these should primarily recognise traditional customs and structures.

Q: regarding the human rights support unit – how will women’s affairs be working with them?

A: The human rights department is newly established, on this basis connections are few – but there are membership ties, and connections are being developed.

Q: How is the high Peace Council progressing, especially with regard to women’s rights?

A: There is 25% female participation in the jurga – as a result of struggle of the MOWA and civil society. Following these inputs, the high peace council was established -  with 10 women representatives in this, themselves with strong connections to MOWA and civil society movements

Q: How successful is the women’s entrepreneurial sector?

A: The parliament in Afghanistan is new one – experience is new and limited (both men and women) – which feeds into private sector policymaking. However, there is a clear expansion in women entrepreneurs, with extensive training for women in universities, supported through, for examples scholarships to India.

Q: What should the international community be doing to prevent rollback of women’s rights in Afghanistan?

A: (answered by Prof. Kandiyoti) Currently, there is an insufficient solidarity baseline, i.e. donor driven gender activism vs civil society network that is more political and based through feminist movements. The links that keep women’s movement going may have receded as a result of donor action – some women’s NGOs have been marginalised. So much of responsibility falls on international community to explore more creative ways of networking.

We also need an enhanced gender analysis techniques within institutions – incl. gender specific performance indicators.

Q: How easy is it to listen/ participate with women in Afghanistan?

A: the main facilities for participating are the Afghan Women’s Network and the Afghan National Coordinating body.  There are many NGOs participating in these fora

Q: How do we make resolution 1325 resonate with men?

A: (Steven Schoofs) Engage with custodians/ customary law – as it is these institutions that are the fallback point in conflict. It is also important to emphasise that gender equality is not a zero-sum game.

A: (Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar): we are training Mullahs and Islamic scholars on these matters of gender sensitivity.


The Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security, ODI, UNDP Afghanistan and Advocacy International will be co-hosting a public meeting on gender equality and peace building with the Minister of Women's Affairs from Afghanistan. This event will seek to promote cross-regional dialogue on the ways in which peace building initiatives can better harness the perspectives and contributions of women and girls to promote more sustainable peace. The event brings together representatives from government, academia and the non-profit community in order to encourage a rich dialogue and in particular to take advantage of the visit of Minister Ghazanfar to London.

Committee Room 5