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The South Asia Channel
Women, Peace, and Security in Afghanistan
It's been 15 years since the UN passed UNSCR 1325. How has Women, Peace, and Security policy changed in Afghanistan and the Congo since then?
Oct. 31, 2000, was a landmark day in the fight for women’s rights. The United Nations Security Council adopted UNSCR 1325 recognizing the disproportionate impact that war and conflicts have on women and children. It was soon followed by seven additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, and 2242) ensuring full and equal participation of women in post-conflict reconstruction, peace, and security. But ironically, as this landmark resolution celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, experts say that it is far from achieving its goals and has failed in adequate implementation.
In one of the most significant post-conflict peace talks of 2015, in July between the Afghan government and the Taliban, not a single representative was a woman. “We are concerned and unhappy that we have not been consulted. They have not been very transparent with women about the peace process,” says Hasina Safi, director of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), an umbrella institution that represents 140 women’s organizations in Afghanistan. Sadly, this is not a unique situation. In most post-conflict peace processes women have been given piecemeal roles, if at all any.
Protection versus Participation
Melanne Verveer, who heads the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and spearheaded the UNSCR 1325 efforts in the United States in her role as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, feels protection from sexual violence has taken prominence over participation in conflict zones. “There is still a huge chasm between what the Security Council resolution intended and what it has promulgated. The past resolutions have chiseled the importance of protection of women from sexual violence that has become dominant in many of these conflicts. On the other hand, the pillar for participation can be viewed as antithetical to protection. That is a forward-looking role that women have to play and they need to be at the table,” she explains to me.
Women have been missing from the table not just in Afghanistan but many other fragile, conflict and violence (FCV) affected countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, South Sudan, and Uganda. Cordaid and the Global Network of Women and Peacebuilders are two development organizations working towards the effective implementation of UNSCR 1325 in FCV countries. They feel one of the biggest hurdles is the lack of political will at the country level. “They don’t see gender as [a] priority, and especially peace and security. When the country has a gender ministry, it is usually the weakest ministry in terms of human resources and funding,” says Dewi Suralaga, policy adviser at Cordaid.
Lack of Political Will
Sandra Uwiringiymana is a survivor of the DRC conflict and now advocates for girls living in conflict. Now 11 years later, she still vividly remembers the night of the Gatumba massacre, when her sister was killed in front of her eyes and other women brutalized at a refugee camp. “It was around 10 pm at night…I was dozing off and my little sister too was sleeping. I was 10 and she was 6. I just remember being in a bed in a tent, when we heard a shot and my mom woke me up saying that we are under attack. We were hiding under a mattress. I watched as the two attackers walked in and killed my little sister, aunt, and two cousins. My mother and I survived as other bodies fell on us. I remember lying like that for hours. The assault was brutal; the rebels cut open the stomach of pregnant women so they could see what the fetus looked like.” As a survivor of this brutal attack, Uwiringiymana has now become a voice for other women in conflict. She feels that the DRC government should include these women’s voices in decision making.
Neema Namadamu, a women’s rights activist, expresses similar concerns as Sandra. Having an insider’s view of the DRC government after working as an adviser for the national ministry for gender and family, she says the patriarchal system is a barrier. “The main problem is that we really don’t have access to decision making. I know how the system works. The government thinks that it isn’t right for women to get positions. They use women for international image, to show that women have position[s], but in reality they have no voice,” says Namadamu.
Namadamu goes onto highlight another critical problem that hinders the implementation of women, peace, and security — funding. “We are always talking about getting money for the implementation of UNSCR 1325, but haven’t seen any money on the ground,” she adds.
Where is the money?
In 2013, $35.5 million was committed by G8 members towards women, peace, and security to help victims of sexual violence and prevent further attacks in war affected countries, but aid organizations working on ground say the money has failed to reach where it’s most needed. “We work very closely with women’s organizations on the ground and all of them are saying that they have not accessed a single cent for the implementation of [UNSCR] 1325 and 1820. Where is the money from the G8 funding going?” questions Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, an international coordinator with GNWP.
Despite many donors funding women, peace, and security in conflict countries, experts and activists working on ground believe that the money is channeled in other projects and very little is directed towards the real issues. “Donors promise millions and millions of dollars for Afghanistan, but if you really analyze it, you will see that even 0.5 percent does not reach the people on [the] ground who really deserve it. One can say that the donors want to support but they don’t know how to,” says Hasina Safi from AWN.
Who needs a National Action Plan?
Afghanistan adopted its National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security in June this year. The NAP looks at bolstering the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and including women in all aspects of conflict resolution and peace negotiations. Until now, only 48 out of 193 countries have implemented NAPs on Women, Peace and Security. With gender not a priority for many governments, many countries have also refused to have a NAP. “Many governments say that they are not conflict countries and that’s why they don’t need a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. India also says that it is not a conflict country but what about northeast India?” says Suralaga of Cordaid.
Even donor countries like the United States are slow to join the NAP bandwagon, passing a NAP in 2011, 11 years after UNSCR 1325 was passed. A NAP in the United States — a donor country — is crucial, since the United States can ensure women, peace, and security in other conflict countries. “The NAP for [the United States] is externally oriented. They need to also look internally and avoid doing things that can disrupt peace and security in conflict countries. They contribute a lot to obstruct peace and security and yet their NAP doesn’t look into their defense policies,” says Suralaga.
Channelizing and Monitoring Funds
Implementing UNSCR 1325, and the subsequent resolutions, cannot be only about military efforts to prevent sexual violence; it also needs to be focused on ground initiatives to ensure participation of women. Cordaid, GNWP, and the U.N. Women are working on the Global Acceleration Instrument (GAI) that aims to close gaps between funding and implementation. It focuses on national and local level implementation, specifically through NAPs. “Many of these NAPs have not been implemented because of lack of funding. NAPs are gathering dust on the shelves of government bureaucracy,” adds Cabrera-Balleza from GNWP. The GAI that will be launched on the 15th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 looks at short-term funds by donors with a five-year evaluation plan. It will focus on urgent implementation and a monitoring mechanism on the where the money is spent.
Fifteen years after the landmark U.N. resolution on women, peace, and security and 20 years after the Beijing Platform for Action, women still continue to be on the margins for sustainable nation building and peace processes. Along with increased and channelized funding, what is also needed is a shift in attitude towards women — a country and community that gives their women due importance and a government that treats them as equals. “We hear that the government is lacking confidence on the capacity of women. They say that there are not enough qualified women to be strong leaders. I want to tell them that despite the hurdles in the past 14 years, we Afghan women have proved that we are strong enough to lead,” says Safi as she looks at the next 15 years with confidence and optimism.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images