The transition of security responsibility from international forces to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) has started in March 2011. The plan is to hand over the responsibility of securing Afghanistan to the ANSF by the end of 2014. In this process the hard-fought gains on women’s security and human rights should not be compromised. “The security and real participation of Afghan women should be the criteria of success in Afghanistan”, said Ambassador Zahir Tanin, the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN.
Afifa Azim and Zakia Soleiman from the Afghan Women’s Network introduced AWN’s “Transition Monitoring” initiative, aimed at quarterly assessing women’s security, mobility, possibility on employment and access to public space.
“There is an urgent need to monitor the security and the rights of women in order to assess how promises made at the international level are actually addressed at this critical moment”, said Zakia Soleiman. Already the initial consultations had revealed concerns about the ANSF’s ability to be responsive to women’s needs and to uphold human rights standards. The AWN consulted over 300 women leaders across Afghanistan ahead of the NATO Summit in May this year. The consultation revealed women’s concerns regarding the transition’s impact on Afghan women’s mobility, security, access to public space and participation in the economic and political life of the country.
Girls’ enrolment in schools, increasing the number of women serving in the Afghan National Police, and promoting qualified women for decision-making positions in political and justice sector are key factors in developing women’s rights and enhancing the security situation in Afghanistan. Women have to be included in the political decision making in order to ensure just and sustainable peace in Afghanistan. “If women are not involved in the decision making how we can expect changes in women’s rights and improvements in the security situation in the country?” asked the director of AWN Afifa Azim.
Afifa Azim and Zakia Soleiman called on the international community to open a direct communication channel between civil society organizations like the AWN, Afghanistan government and international stakeholders such as UN, NATO and embassies. The AWN is encouraging Afghanistan government and all international stakeholders to take advantage of the “Transition Monitoring”. The quarterly situational analysis from the local and provincial level should inform the ongoing transition and the adjustment of plans and policies when needed.
Violence against women and girls remains a serious concern in Afghanistan. Afifa Azim told that over 87 percent of Afghan women and girls experience at least one form of violence during their life. It is especially difficult to get help for women facing domestic violence or discrimination in traditional dispute settlement mechanisms, as women have no place to go if their rights are violated. “That is why we need to continue our tireless work for women’s security and their empowerment, for educating young men, tribal leaders and local communities about the equal rights of women and men”, said Eileen O’Connor the Senior Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy from the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who participated in the panel.
The Permanent Representative of Finland Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen and the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan Ambassador Zahir Taninwelcomed the important work of civil society organizations and international community in enhancing gender equality and human rights in Afghanistan. The representation of women within civil society organizations and in decision making institutions has grown and Afghanistan has now three female ministers.
Yet there is a lot of work ahead to improve women’s rights in the country. Even if the constitution of Afghanistan gives equal legal status to men and women, and the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women is a step forward in enhancing women’s security and their rights, are women in Afghanistan still practically left in margins. “International community has to make sure that gains made in political participation of women, girl’s education and free media are not lost during this crucial moment of transition. Women need to be involved in the process of creating future Afghanistan” said Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen.
Ambassador Zahir Tanin emphasized the importance of real and effective participation of women: ”Women need not to be just symbolically present, they need to be given a real possibility to influence the future of Afghanistan through meaningful participation in the reconciliation process. The thinking and presence of women needs to be seen and heard in the political decision making. Eileen O’Connor and Zakia Soleiman quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by stating “no state can develop and achieve sustainable peace and security if half of the population is excluded from the peace building process”.