Persistent discrimination has prohibited women from garnering a greater role in the design and implementation of the peace process. The Programme's gender policy, introduced in September 2011, seeks to ensure women's participation in decision-making at the strategic/political level through the High Peace Council (reconciliation) and at the operational level through gender-mainstreaming in local peace processes (reintegration). However, this policy has been largely ineffective.
Women are engaged in local efforts to reintegrate insurgents through the Programme's sub-national partners, including the Provincial Peace Committees. But women's participation is limited by high levels of illiteracy, particularly in rural areas. Male committee members, the Ulema [legal scholars], and tribal elders show little or no support for female members. In some provinces, female committee members are restricted from traveling, participating in tribal meetings, and getting involved in the reintegration and demobilization processes.
The absence of a grassroots support network is one of the key reasons women have been unable to exert more influence in the peace process.
In the restive province of Kandahar, female Provincial Peace Committee members successfully organized the first-ever International Women's Day event on March 8, 2012, with help from a local nongovernmental organization. Committee members have effectively engaged with female relatives of reintegrated personnel to offer them support. In rare cases, they have used their influence within their tribes to negotiate with insurgents.
The absence of a women's grassroots support network or social movement is one of the key reasons women have been unable to exert more influence in the peace process. Major urban areas like Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, or Herat have only in the last decade developed a relatively effective network of women's issue-based groups. Other provinces have not been as fortunate. Rural Afghanistan has been historically conservative, and, in the current security climate, it is at times inaccessible. As a result women's movements have not been able to take root in remote areas, although a small community of women's organizations has slowly started to grow.
The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme and female council members at provincial and national levels should focus on creating a support network of women in the provinces. Such a network could draw from village-level councils, assemblies, the Directorate of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, and women's civil society organizations. This approach will enable female members to utilize local women contacts to spread the message of peace in otherwise inaccessible villages and districts.
The engagement of female Provincial Council members, civil society organizations, and other officials will help build awareness of the Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Programme at the provincial level. Creating a mechanism at the grassroots level that increases women's participation and voice in the peace process will draw support among a crucial part of the population of Afghanistan that currently feels vastly isolated.
Mariam Safi, an international affairs advisor and researcher in Afghanistan.