Building Peace in Afghanistan: Include the Women
While it is fundamental for any peace process seeking to find success to be inclusive, patriarchy, power, and politics have excluded the demographics whose peace is being made, built and kept, from engaging in the process. Globally, the exclusion of women from peace processes seems to be an uncomfortable norm that must be forced out of place – relegating the case-making for the inclusion of women to depend entirely on essentialist contentions. Calling for the inclusion of women in peace processes through limiting and stereotypical ideas of seeing women as nurturing or inherently peaceful does no justice to women: for it reduces the idea of “women” to being and doing what patriarchy expects of women and continues to keep gender inequality alive. It is also a clever way of excluding women that don’t fit into this limiting frame.
There are more reasons than essentialist arguments that make compelling cases for the inclusion of women in peace processes. As a demographic that bears a heavier burden of violence and inequality in armed conflict, a peace process that does not include women is incomplete, piecemeal, and limited in its potential. Even as we have seen examples world over, be it the women in Liberia or in the Philippines, the exclusion women from peace processes remains an enduring concern, most recently in Afghanistan. The exclusion of women from peace processes is not a good decision for the future of any nation, especially for a nation like Afghanistan, with a history of armed conflict and a long-drawn historical pursuit of peace.
Afghan Women and A Future of Peace
Afghan women have been rising fighting patriarchy and inequality in several spheres. From political leadership at the grass-roots and in the parliament to participating in sports and social work, women are actively seeking – and successfully so in particular instances – inclusion in public life. The World Bank has indicated that women constitute 21% of Afghanistan’s labor force. In the 56 years since Afghan women gained equal political rights, women’s participation is at its highest currently – with 28% of the Afghan legislative body, as opposed to a mere 2.2% back in 1965 (World Bank). With women holding the positions of deputy ministers of defence and interior, and over 1,50,000 women holding positions of political leadership in rural areas since 2001, one may arguably see the shifts in social and political landscapes around the inclusion of women.
However, in the upper echelons where peace is built, made, and kept, women are not part of the process: in some contexts, women’s issues figure in the dialogues, but the women themselves are not included. The women in Afghanistan are not interested in being relegated to the backseat: their clarion call is loud and clear. In 2019, as many as 15,000 Afghan women from 34 provinces came together to participate in the peace jirga, which culminated in a 15-point declaration, which called for, among other things, the end to the war, the deployment of peace education, respect for the Constitution, national unity and coexistence, accountability and transparency in elections, and peace journalism among both the national and international media.
In many ways, the lone and indisputable logic behind asking for the inclusion of women in peace processes is straightforward: that conflict affects them and peace concerns them, and their unique experiences and needs must play a role in shaping the vision for the future. Researchbacks this up with examples: of how women have access to and are able to represent communities that men cannot, of how women have the ability to broaden the focus of governmental planning and implementation, and of how women can usher in feminist values to help dismantle structural violence. These factors are intricately woven in feminist approaches to peace, politics, and public engagement: structures that have been moulded and kept in place by patriarchy have to be dismantled to pave the way for the inclusion of women. In that pursuit, when structural violence is addressed, the route to peace is clearer and wholesome.
No peace that is taped into place by an agreement or ceasefire among only a section of society can hold for long. Any shot at building long-term peace must necessarily invoke a systemic and structural overhaul, for armed conflict does not start overnight: a range of systemic and structural factors establish an enabling environment for the conflagration to catch on. If a feminist approach is a significant path to peacebuilding, there is room for a larger shift right from the roots.