Afghan Women's Network

Afghan Women's Network

Women’s Rights and Empowerment: Setting the Agenda Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) Symposium, Oslo

A Long Decade of Progress 

There has been remarkable progress in the lives of Afghan women over the last long decade, with a number of legal reforms, new policies, and practical measures set forth to advance women’s rights and uality of life. Over the past few years, 28% of Afghan parliament seats have been filled by women. School enrolment of Afghan girls is now 38% of the total. The Afghan Ministry of Health reports a huge decline in the maternal mortality rate, from 1600 to 460 per 100,000 women. Women civic groups have spread all over the country, advocating women’s rights, organizing and training women to take part in business and in politics, holding the government and international donors accountable  -  both  collectively  and  independently.  The  Afghan  Women’s Network alone has 120 women groups, from all 34 provinces, as members.

Despite all this progress, the achievements remain fragile, and there are many gaps that necessitate continued commitment rather than over-optimism. There are many challenges ahead for maintaining the momentum and finding ground for pragmatic implementation of the commitments made, as well as sustaining the achievements of the past.

After  a  long-drawn  presidential  election  process,  Afghanistan  is  finally experiencing a peaceful democratic transfer of power. Simultaneously, the Afghan Government is renewing its relation with the international community of states, through signing the Bilateral Security Agreement, engaging in the NATO Summit and the upcoming London Donor Conference.

While Afghan women look positively at the progress of the past years, many questions  and  concerns  remain.  How  will  the  new  government  ensure women’s  participation  in  the  governance  structure  while  managing  the expectations for posts by multiple parties under the umbrella of the new Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) is an umbrella organization of 120 women-led civil society NGOs and over 3000 individual women members National Unity Government? How will the unity government protect women’s rights and all those articles pertaining to human rights and gender equity in the 2004 Constitution under the inevitable constitutional reform process over the coming two years?   What is the political will of the Afghan government and international partners to focus on shifting the role of Afghan women from home producers and subordinates in the informal economy to management and being  in  control  of  their  own  businesses?  Furthermore,  while  women’s participation  in  peace  processes  is  affirmed  through  commitment  to  the National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security  (UNSCR  1325), how meaningful a role will there be for women in upcoming peace talks? And even more  importantly,  how  will  the  international  community  partner  with  the government and the people of Afghanistan in the coming years to safeguard the achievements of the past decade and keep up the momentum of positive

change for Afghan women?

The Afghan Women’s Network

The  Afghan Women’s  Network  (AWN),  building  on  close  to  20  years  of struggle,  advocates  for  continued  international  support  for  women  of Afghanistan past the 2014 transition. In the last  13 years, there has been significant progress at the policy level. In the coming years Afghan women need focused support for implementation of NAPWA (the 10 year National  Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan), as well as for the implementation of the EVAW law (Elimination of Violence Against Women), addressing the continuous  abuse  against  women  compounded  by  years  of  conflict,  an absence of effective law enforcement, and prevailing corruption. The articles specific to women’s rights in the Constitution of Afghanistan, which has been set forth to honor women’s struggle over the years, need to be safeguarded in the process of constitutional reforms.   The national gender machineries need to be shielded from political power games, but should be staffed by strong leaders that can formulate gender sensitive national level policies, as well as effectively  monitor  women’s  rights  and  their  participation  in  national development. AWN appreciates the role of Norway, the United States, and other international allies for  their commitment  to  keeping the  Agenda  on Afghan Women alive with hosting the symposium in Georgetown in November 2013, followed now by the Symposium on Women’s Rights and Empowerment in Oslo. Women in peace negotiations: There has been improvement in women’s participation  in  peace  processes  with  the  Government  of  Afghanistan developing a National Action Plan and women serving in parts of the current peace structure. AWN believes that the only way to ensure that women’s concerns are fully reflected in peace negotiations is for women to directly participate in them. The inclusion of women in negotiations should go hand in hand with a consultative mechanism, which provides input to the negotiating teams, where women have full oversight of the peace negotiations and during peace implementation.

Secure female political leadership by maintaining quota: Political quota has  proven  to  be  a  very  effective  tool  for  ensuring  minimum  female representation in political decision-making bodies, and ought to be maintained, with minimum 25% as is currently the case for parliamentary elections. Quotas should be implemented at all levels, from the national parliament, via provincial councils and district councils, to the community level.

Recruit  more  women  to  the  government  administration  by  adopting threshold figures: The share of women within the administration, at all levels, is far below satisfactory, and progress has proven slow. AWN believes it is necessary to adopt ambitious thresholds for the share of women, with a clear timeline, and to adopt affirmative action measures to ensure women get the opportunity to enter government jobs. This is important at all levels, and in all sectors of the government, but AWN wants to emphasize that fostering job opportunities in the security sector is particularly critical.

Ensure economic empowerment for all through variegated approaches:

Women’s participation in business is far too limited, and, when women are active  in  business,  given  little  notice.  Programs  to  foster  economic empowerment are therefore of crucial importance. With enormous variety in women’s  education,  skills,  interests  and  opportunities,  it  is  important  to develop a wide menu of supportive measures that are effective in helping different women realize their specific potential.

Maintain  focus  on  basic  education  for  all:  The  new  access  to  basic education for girls since 2001 is a sea-change. Securing future access for girls at high levels is important, while at the same time continuing to work on improving  the  quality  of  basic  education,  though  the  training  of  qualified teachers  (women and men), and through improving the curriculum  (with a particular emphasis on gender-sensitivity across all subject areas).

Improve  access  to  higher  education  and  leadership  training:  The expansion  of  the  Afghan  university  sector  has  gone  hand  in  hand  with improved access of women to higher education,  particularly in the urban centers. Considering the uneven situation throughout the country, with limited access to higher education in remote provinces, it is a huge challenge for young women to reach secondary education. There is a need for focus on leadership  development  of  these  vast  groups  of  young  women  through programs such as PROMOTE to widen the definition of leadership and to include young women in distant provinces who can be change-makers in their communities.   This widened focus on Afghan women leadership will require attention to the serious shortcomings in higher education regarding teacher qualifications, pedagogical quality, curriculum and literature, and the fairness of grading.

Strengthen women’s access to health services: The massive expansion of the health system, with basic health centers as well as clinics and hospitals, represents  another  major  achievement  of  the  post-2001  era.  Despite incomparable improvements in maternal health, mortality when giving birth, and child mortality, Afghanistan still lags far beyond most other countries. Much can be done by simple measures - basic health education, advice and follow-up (particularly during pregnancy) and access to midwives - as long as programs are countrywide within reach of all.

Intensify the battle against sexual harassment: Widespread practices of sexual harassment - such as derogatory remarks or gestures - make women feel  insecure  and  powerless.  Sexual  harassment  prevents  many  from attending education, taking a job, or running a business. Overcoming sexual harassment ultimately requires many men to change their attitudes to what constitutes acceptable behavior. AWN proposes that a code of conduct and a complaints mechanism should be in place in all education institutions and work places, addressing sexual harassment of women in a sensitive manner. The purpose is to enable women to continue education and career-building in government and private institutions.

Scale up support for victims of domestic violence: There is little doubt that domestic violence is widespread in Afghanistan, and that very few of the victims ever get the support that they deserve. The ideal solution to domestic violence is to address it early, so that it can be handled within the family. Yet, there is a need for enhanced capacity - both in the form of legal counseling, women’s shelters, and protection programs  - for dealing with cases of a serious and systemic nature.

All legal reforms to be fully anchored in consultations with civil society:

Virtually  all  legal  reforms  have  an  impact  on  women’s  rights  and  their opportunities for empowerment. Legal reform is ultimately the prerogative of the cabinet and the parliament, yet it is important to ensure mechanisms are in place so that all suggested legal reforms are thoroughly assessed for their gendered impacts, with ample space and time given to public debate and to consultations within civil society.

Implement robust monitoring systems: All government plans and proposals ought  to  be  specific  about  their  intended  impact  on  the  rights  and  the participation of women. Effective monitoring is contingent on credible baseline data that capture the situation at the outset. Monitoring systems ought to strike a sensible balance between the need, on the one hand, to be sufficiently comprehensive to give a representative depiction of trends, while, on the other hand, being sufficiently simple to stimulate an informed public debate.

Institutionalize a bi-annual symposium on women’s situation: Inspired by the Oslo Symposium on Women’s Rights and Empowerment, the AWN would suggest that an event - with the aim to take stock of progress made, and discuss  ways  forward -  is  being  held  every  second  year,  with  the  full participation of the Government of Afghanistan, Afghan civil society, and key international stakeholders. By institutionalizing an event of this nature, we ensure that women’s concerns continue to receive the necessary attention, and that all stakeholders remain committed to this important agenda.

Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) is an umbrella organization of 120 women-led civil society NGOs and over 3000 individual women members