Original article found on: The Guardian
By Samira Hamidi*; 11/21/14
*Samira Hamidi is the former director of the Afghan Women’s Network in Afghanistan
“This is your world, shape it or someone else will” – Rula Ghani, Afghanistan’s first lady
I recently attended a programme launch for women’s empowerment where Afghanistan’s first lady, Rula Ghani, was the keynote speaker. She ended her speech with the powerful statement above that inspired many of us there.
However, it made me think. In the real world of Afghan women, how many are able to do this? How many have real opportunities and support for this from male family members and colleagues?
Women’s participation in and contribution to Afghanistan have improved. It is always pleasing to read how women’s rights have been boosted in Afghanistan in education, health and government. It is also very positive tha one of the reasons for the presence of the international community in Afghanistan is to address women’s rights. But this progress has been limited to the big cities where people are fairly well educated and understand the concept of women’s rights. We have failed to address why men and women are not considered equal citizens in most of the country.
The London conference on Afghanistan, on 4 December, is considered an important opportunity for both the Afghan government and international community to discuss their mutual commitment and collaboration after this year, when the majority of US and UK troops leave. While it is encouraging that the UK government will host civil society, including a side event for women, before the conference, there is little information on how many women will be involved in the official delegation of the Afghan government. Discussions and negotiations over the final communique are under way, yet women’s groups within the government and the women’s movement have not yet been consulted. There is also limited information on the Afghan government’s priorities for this conference.
In the past 13 years, women’s representation has been limited. Despite three female ministers in the cabinet, 27% in the parliament and senate, nine women in Kabul’s high peace council and two to three per province in 31 provinces, women’s participation is rarely seen in important national discussions, decisions, authority and leadership. Women in these positions have failed to fully address the needs of other women.
The international community, particularly the UK government, has played an effective donor role to support women’s rights in Afghanistan. So far, the funding has supported the implementation of short-term projects by women-led organisations, but the absence of meaningful political and diplomatic pressure on policymakers to ensure women’s equal participation has always been felt.
It is promising that the UK Department for International Development (DfID), with the support of the UK-based British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group, plans to bring 50 civil society representatives to the London conference. But the women’s rights agenda seems to be missing. Past experiences have shown that the civil society delegations usually have a broader agenda to lobby for, which could see women’s concerns left to one side. As an activist, I was disappointed to hear that the visa applications for the women’s delegation – which had a specific agenda to discuss women’s concerns and recommendations – was not supported by the organisers.
Where both the Afghan and UK governments have priorities under their national action plans on women, implementation of these plans is a challenge. When female leaders are not engaged in national discussions and decisions, where international supporters do not prioritise women’s rights as per their commitments, it clearly shows a lack of interest and political will to address women’s rights.
We still hope to see a good representation of women in the Afghan government’s official delegation at the London conference. The UK government as co-host must ask for the meaningful participation of these women, a specific women’s rights event where they can make recommendations, and for these to be included in the final communique.
Afghan women have the ability to think about their country’s development, contribute to it and lead positive change. Women should be given an equal opportunity to make a better Afghanistan.
Original article found on: The Guardian