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It needs to be added that a strong network between women peacebuilders and grassroots organizations is vital for sustainable peace and efficient response to a pandemic. Capacity building is also part of this agenda which can be performed in telematic or in-person formats.

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IPRI # 107, 6 October 2020

GENDER AND PEACEBUILDING DURING A PANDEMIC
In Afghanistan, women peacebuilders need more than a seat at the table

  Fatemah Ghafori

In a recently published issue brief, titled, “Peacebuilding during a Pandemic: Keeping the Focus on Women’s Inclusion” by the International Peace Institute, the authors comprehensively discuss five key factors that can help the United Nations and its member states to maintain their focus on women peacebuilders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two important case studies on Afghanistan and Yemen have substantially strengthened the brief. The five factors discussed include state leadership on Women Peace and Security in multilateral fora, women’s participation in formal peace processes, protection and security of women peacebuilders, financing for women peacebuilders, and ensuring data-driven responses. Societies dealing with long-lasting civil war for years need sustainable peace and women peacebuilders to have a fundamental role in it.

I.

Moving from the Margins, Not yet in the Core: Women peacebuilders struggle in Afghanistan

The current pandemic as any other global crisis has difficulties and opportunities within. The first factor highlighted by the authors has to be strongly agreed upon. To protect the latest achievements of the UN and its member states in terms of women empowerment, strong leadership and collaboration among governments and multilateral organizations (including regional and international) are required to prioritize the procedure. Supporting women’s inclusion in peacebuilding and implementing gender analysis in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is part of this procedure. WPS also has a strong focus on the rights and inclusion of marginalized women based on ethnicity, socio-economic status, and geographical location, which is one of the most discussed topics in this context in Afghanistan. Lack of strong and cohesive government leadership has left women marginalized from the core of peace, and given priority over political and health issues. In Afghanistan, the participation of women in the peace process had improved very well during the last 20 years, but it is not enough yet.

A few women in peace talks

As the author argued in the second factor, women’s participation in the peace processes during COVID-19, women have a vital role to play in securing peace and reducing violence. Women’s meaningful participation, according to the Women Peace and Security agenda, can have a profound impact on society from the local to the transnational level. This has not been the case in Afghanistan and only a few prominent Afghan women have been involved in the formal peace process. It is important for women from the local level, the main victims of war, to be officially involved in the peace process. This is because peace is not an overnight process but it is a strategic and fundamental procedure.

Joining peace advocacy gatherings has been very challenging during the pandemic. Also, at this time the health sector and economy were a priority for the governments and not women’s role in peacebuilding. Overall, the efforts in this regard have not been sufficient and effective enough due to the lack of a fundamental strategic plan to bring women from margin to core.

Women’s limited geographic and technological reach

Women peacebuilders have a strong role in Afghanistan both through organizations and social media.  Afghan women’s education center (AWEC), Afghan women Network initiations (AWN), and Herat peace blubbers team are the examples. These institutions in collaboration with other parties on the ground level provide information to the society in pandemic time through using different platforms from social media to the door-to-door distribution of face masks. These activities have been strongly challenged by technical problems, and limited geographical range due to security issues.

No security for women at the local level

Although the third factor mentioned by the author, ‘Protecting Women Peacebuilders’, is in the main agenda of the 1325 UNSC resolution, lack of evidence-based and inclusive plans along with a gap in implementation have resulted in fewer achievements. Inter-Afghan peace negotiations is a strong concern for women peacebuilders in Afghanistan. In August 2020, Mrs. Fawzia Kofi, a member of the Afghan Parliament and a member of the negotiating team with the Taliban, survived a terrorist attack. Still, the security of the women peacebuilders is not a priority for the government and one can imagine the worst at the local level.

The result of the Inter-Afghan peace negotiations can threaten the last 20 years of democratic and women empowerment achievements in Afghanistan.  This can result in the minimized role of women in government. The United States Embassy in Kabul on 18 September 2020 announcement on possible attacks (on various targets) in Afghanistan would increase. While attacks on human rights activists, security forces, and prominent women increased, women are more concerned about security threats. Afghan government efforts in this regard are far away from being efficient.

Lack of finances deter social security

The fourth factor, financing of women peacebuilders, is a big concern during a pandemic. Many women-led organizations have been either closed or partially deactivated. In Afghanistan, a lack of financial support has strongly effected women's peacebuilding activities in defense of their rights and achievements as peace talks are happening during this era. There are a considerable number of local peacebuilders without access to basic social services including health care, and technical facilities like the internet. The UN and involved parties should support women not only at national but local levels, especially in financial terms.

To discuss the last factor with regard to the data-driven responses: the data collection has become a problem in the pandemic. Although the topics of Gender-based, and domestic violence came to more attention lately, there is no authentic database available. Effective policies should be designed based on data and evidence, but this has always been an issue in LDC like Yemen or Afghanistan. What is missed in this brief is points on the importance of systematic data collection methods specifically for warzone countries.

II

A Way Ahead: Capacity building is the need of the hour

The five important factors in the issue brief cover core challenge to women peacebuilders during a pandemic. However, it needs to be added that a strong network between women peacebuilders and grassroots organizations is vital for sustainable peace and efficient response to a pandemic. Capacity building is also part of this agenda which can be performed in telematic or in-person formats. Peacebuilding strategies remained symbolic and only in the paper for years, now it is the time to implement them.

It is worth mentioning that SDG is the most suitable platform for peacebuilding and women empowerment activities. A good number of SDGs mirror the actual need for education, peace, and equality. This important point which is absolutely helpful for the sustainability of peace activities has not been reflected in the paper.

Afghan women peacebuilders are not assured if the democratic achievements of the last 20 years would be maintained during peace negotiations. Given the complex situation of peace negotiations, even international parties confirm the huge threat to human rights and gender equality. The Islamic Emirates, the desired ruling system by the Taliban would minimize women’s role in society and government. This system fails to represent women’s role in peace and prosperity. The increase of terrorist attacks and security threats maximized the concerns in this regard.

The presence of Afghan women in the peace process and negotiating table with the Taliban is a major achievement. Considering the recommendations given in the brief would help to strengthen the meaningful participation of women in the peace process fundamentally. But the main victims of this long-lasted war at the local level should be strongly supported by the government and peace should be fundamentally built in the society. Peace must be institutionalized by peacebuilders at the lowest levels with the full support of the government and international institutions.


Fatema Ghafoori is a UMISARC scholar studying politics and international relations in South Asia from Pondicherry University.

The above commentary is a part of the IPRI special series on ‘WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325’. This an attempt by NIAS to look at the various challenges faced by women peacebuilders during the COVID-19 pandemic and are the earliest efforts to record the limitations to women empowerment in the peace processes in South Asia. 

 

Also from the series...

In India, pandemic relegates women peacebuilders to the margins

Pushpika Sapna Bara

For India's women, home has been the most violent place

Tamanna Khosla

In India, the glass is half full for the women

Jenice Jean Goveas 

In Nepal, it is a struggle for the women out of the patriarchal shadows

Kabi Adhikari

In Bangladesh, laws need to catch up with reality

Mehjabin Ferdous

In Afghanistan, there is no going back for the women

Fatemah Ghafori

 

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