Building Peace in Afghanistan: Making a Case for a Gender Inclusive Peace Process




The US and the Taliban have agreed to engage in a new round of talks for peace, but it appears that this new agreement may cost women their rights in Afghan governments in the future.  This peace agreement is aimed at drawing out a plan for the withdrawal of American troops and for negotiations between the incumbent and future Afghan governments and the Taliban. Reports suggest that this agreement “is not expected to include specific assurances that women will continue to have equal opportunities in education, employment and government.” Other gender identities have not been included in any peace process that has unfolded in Afghanistan – and it isn’t certain that this current engagement with the US will, either.

Why does a commitment to gender-based rights matter?
The wholesome inclusion of individuals in public life and enhanced rights for the enjoyment of private life are vital to a peaceful society. There is a tendency to conflate “gender” and “women” and leave the implications and meaning of gender at the binary doorstep. In reality, however, the dynamics of a gender perspective transcend the limited interpretation of women=gender and the limited framing of women-specific measures to respond to gender inclusion needs (Bell and McNicholl, 2019).

A gender perspective can help usher in inputs to peace processes and agreements from all gender identities. Essentialist arguments have suggested that women are inherently predisposed to peace, that women moderate extremism, strengthen peacemaking, promote  dialogue and build trust, bridge divides and mobilize coalitions, break the conflict trap, and that their “nurturing” and “peaceful” nature operate as harbingers of peace (O’Reilly, 2015). Beyond essentialism, there is a fundamental need for the inclusion of representatives of every individual who has a stake in the future of the country. However, as Bell and McNicholl (2019: 4) caution, there is a need to go beyond essentialism: “while there may be arguments as to the special knowledge and approaches that women might bring to the table, their participation should not depend on having to demonstrate these benefits to earn their place at the table.” Further, they add, “Even if an agreement which ‘looked good’ in its gender provisions could be provided without involving women, it would not fully adopt a gender perspective if women had not been involved in formulating its provisions.”

The inclusion of all gender identities in the negotiation for peace is vital because each gender identity is positioned differently, faces different circumstances – or navigate the same circumstances through different degrees of freedoms, restrictions, choices, and consequences, and each such experience presents unique experiences that need to be addressed for the society to heal, to transform conflict, and to transition to sustainable peace. Furthermore, the use of gender as a means to construct peace agreements can prove to be immensely helpful in structuring peace agreements and processes that are sensitive to gender experiences across a spectrum, while also providing for inclusion in a wholesome fashion. It can prove to be helpful in redistributing power, in dismantling oppressive structures that allowed room for the direct violence that followed in the conflict that ensued, and in establishing a firm understanding of the ways in which political agreements can impact the “sexual contract that lies at the heart of the state” (Chinkin, 2003).

Gender-based Peace in Afghanistan
Since the advent of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, women faced violence, oppression, and were restricted from accessing wholesome public life – be it education, healthcare, or careers. In the past many years, however, women have made some progress, although much of this is limited to urban Afghanistan even as the Taliban has gained a firm footing in rural Afghanistan. There are concerns that this progress may face a setback in the soon-to-be released preliminary peace agreement that the US and the Taliban have entered into.

In 2017, the United States Department of State reported that the prevalence of “discrimination against persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities and discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation persisted with little accountability.” The same report also noted that “Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face discrimination, assault, rape, and arrest by security forces and society at large." This patent awareness of the gender-based issues challenging Afghanistan provides enough of a basis to expect that these issues will be addressed.

Any commitment to building peace must strive to not only look ahead, but to also learn lessons from the past, dismantle structures that may force a return to past violence, and to facilitate room to heal. The US must strive to push forward with these key pieces of the puzzle in place: as otherwise, any peace that is brokered without respect for gender impacts and gender inclusion would be fractured at best.

References
Bell, C. and McNicholl, K., 2019. Principled Pragmatism and the ‘Inclusion Project’: Implementing a Gender Perspective in Peace Agreements. feminists@ law, 9(1).
O’Reilly, M., 2015. Why Women?. Inclusive Security, pp.1-16.
Chinkin, C., (2003), Peace Agreements as a Means for Promoting Gender Equality and Ensuring Participation of Women, UN Division for the Advancement of Women, EGM/PEACE/2003/BP.1.
US Department of State (2017) AFGHANISTAN 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/277519.pdf

Image Source: Pixabay