by Masih Khybari
Since the signing of the historic U.S-Taliban agreement on February 29th, efforts to formally initiate Intra-Afghan negotiations have been met with significant delays caused by carping disagreements over the 2019 Presidential election results, prisoners release, and COVID19. However, the Government of Afghanistan’s announcement of an inclusive 21-member negotiation team, which includes five prominent and accomplished women, on March 26th serves a positive development.
The uncertainty over potential compromises across these issues looms over Afghan women of all ages and backgrounds. There is widespread consensus among all Afghans that the key to lasting and sustainable peace is through a fully inclusive process that includes women and places women’s issues as central to both the negotiations and the implementation of a post-conflict settlement. The consensus for and the fear of compromising inclusivity is justified. Women’s active participation in governance, the economy, and civil society is one of the most salient sources of democratic and institutional advancement in Afghanistan in the past 19 years. Women’s rights to self-determination were non-existent during the Taliban. Today, 3.5 million girls are enrolled in education; schools and universities employ nearly 70,000 female instructors and professors; female entrepreneurs have invested $77 million in their businesses and are creating industries in the private sector; women account for 27% of MPs in parliament, three government ministers and four ambassadors. It is no wonder that the Taliban poll at under 10% approval rating. Yet, these tremendous gains could potentially be compromised.
At its core, the Intra-Afghan talks will not only be a negotiation of, but a referendum on political culture, democratic participation, and the institutional structure of the state. Issues such as women’s rights, the protection of human and civil rights and the Constitution of Afghanistan will be on the table. With the U.S engagement in Afghanistan entering its 19th year, creative and tangible solutions are needed more than ever. To address the possible structure, options and roadmap of ensuring women’s participation and a guarantee of rights during the Intra-Afghan talks, Georgetown University’s Master of Science of Foreign Service (MSFS) program collaborated with Women Forward International (WFI) on an exciting new program entitled “Waging Peace in Afghanistan”.
A group of 16 Georgetown MSFS students spent a semester focused on the future of Afghanistan and the role of women’s leadership in ensuring sustainable peace. The unique feature of the program is the collaboration with two NGOs: Women for Afghan Women (WAW) and Women’s Activities and Social Services Association (WASSA). Working with WAW and WASSA, Georgetown students worked to develop cutting edge research and provided strategic recommendations on issues that will feature during Intra-Afghan talks. Representatives from WAW traveled to Doha to participate in interviews with key peace builders and stakeholders and WFI hopes in the future to bring more Afghan NGO representatives to Doha along with student researchers.
The final two reports, which are available to the public through WFI’s partnership with UNITAR, provide a comprehensive set of recommendations pertaining to political uncertainty, historical obstacles to gender equity and justice, the powerful role of the media as leverage for women’s advocacy and the domestic and international institutional mechanisms available for women to utilize in order to ensure that their voices are heard.
The “Waging Peace in Afghanistan” program is rare. It affords students with a first-hand opportunity to analyze the value of civil society at the grassroots level and to create a valuable-often neglected- forum to those who’s grievances are rarely heard or addressed. The conclusion of the reports underscores the benefits of deepening civil society presence across Afghanistan’s provinces. By applying the lessons of the past 19 years, these students have codified a set of substantive policy recommendations that will undoubtedly be relied on by US and Afghan policymakers, academics, practitioners, and students of peace and conflict resolution.
Masih Khybari is Counselor at the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan and member of the WFI Advisory Committee. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.