Thursday, January 28, 2010

Afghan Women Civil Society Leaders Meet in Dubai to Discuss Peace and Security for Afghanistan in the Context of the London Conference


We, the leaders and representatives of women NGOs in Afghanistan, deeply concerned about the exclusion of Afghan women in the upcoming London Conference on Afghanistan on 28 January 2010, gathered in Dubai on 23-24 January 2010 and participated in the Dubai Women’s Dialogue conducted by Afghan Women’s Network with the support of UNIFEM Afghanistan Country Office and the Institute for Inclusive Society, to consolidate the messages of Afghan women to the aforementioned Conference.

We recognize the achievements of the past eight years in restoring women’s rights under the law, positioning gender in the national strategy, starting the removal of gender based discrimination in laws and policies, promoting women’s participation and leadership in public life, improving women’s access to education and health services, and adopting the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA), among others. All of these should be continued and vigorously implemented throughout the country, particularly by holding all government agencies and senior officials accountable, increasing budgets for gender, and putting more women in decision making positions.

Yet, the status of Afghan women continues to be one of the worst in the world. Despite government commitments to improve their well being, they remain underrepresented in all spheres of society and their economic and social status remain a matter of great concern. Although more men die in armed conflict, the women population continues to be lower because of very high maternal mortality rate, which is the second highest in the world. The well-being of women and their contributions are imperatives of sustainable economic growth and the furtherance of a democratic and inclusive society. All measures must be exerted to accelerate the process of bringing women to the mainstream of national life by developing their capacities, creating an enabling environment for the enjoyment of their rights and freedoms, and accelerating the delivery of basic social services nationwide.

We expect that the London Conference will result in greater clarity of direction and priorities for the new administration, which includes renewed assurance to implement its existing commitments to Afghan women, backed with increased resources and accountability of public officials. The exclusion of gender in the agenda of the London Conference and the lack of women representatives in the GoIRA’s delegation is a reflection of the low regard that the government gives to the views and concerns of the women population. The results of the London Conference should note the recommendations of the Dubai Women’s Dialogue and the London Women’s Preparatory Conference and include them as working materials for the preparation of the Kabul International Conference on Afghanistan which will take place later in 2010.

In regard to the main substantive agenda of the London Conference on Afghanistan, we submit the following concerns and recommendations for consideration:

A. Security

1. Our collective experiences in the way peace is being pursued in the country have not been positive. Military presence in our communities results in increased restrictions to our mobility, which disrupts our work, participation in public life, social interactions, family harmony and access to community resources, such as water and fuel. When our men are injured or killed, we are pushed to assume responsibilities for which we have limited skills, less opportunities and very little support from government. We expect our government and the international community to listen to our vision of how peace could be promoted in our communities and incorporate them into existing peace and security approaches.

2. While the Government of Afghanistan recognizes that civilian support is a key to the promotion of security, its concept of strengthening civilian support and how it affects women are still unclear. Women experience armed conflict differently and have a more pro-life vision of how peace must be pursued. However, the security sector does not listen and consider women’s ideas within their current frameworks. The security sector should hold a high level dialogue with women leaders to listen to their recommendations on how to strengthen civilian support to security and what they can offer to make it a meaningful reality. Toward this end, we call upon the government and the international community to support a process for women peace advocates to gather before the holding of the planned Peace Jirga after the London Conference to consolidate their positions and choose their representatives to the process. We also wish to emphasize the need to use the result of the Jirga in a way that will not undermine the authority and powers of duly established democratic institutions.

3. In framing the national peace and reintegration framework, we stand firm by the principles of ‘no compromise on human rights’ and ‘reconciliation before reintegration’. We are concerned about the lack of consultation and consideration of the needs and views of the citizens, including the women. National healing is the foundation of sustainable peace and this will not be possible unless reintegration is preceded with reconciliation. Granting amnesty and reintegrating ex-Talibans without regard for justice will reinforce the unconstitutionally-passed Amnesty Law in condoning crimes and human rights violations in times of war. This could elicit retributions that will imperil sustainable peace. In no way will we accept a reintegration program that is not based on justice and respect for human rights, including women’s rights. We demand that government inform the citizens about the negotiation deals and the roles and stakes of regional neighbors and the international community in the process.

4. Security is an issue that women constantly face within their own families. Their advocacies for women’s rights and gender equality elicit family discord that escalates into domestic violence. Families should be a target of advocacy on non-violence and religious institutions should serve as partners of the State in promoting a more egalitarian and non-violent domestic relations.

B. Development and Governance

5. By ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Government of Afghanistan has an obligation to ensure that laws and policies are free from gender-based discriminatory provisions. It has been observed (with the enactment of the Shia Personal Status Law (SPSL) that the Parliament is likely to continue enacting laws that could violate the policy of equality and non discrimination under the Constitution. Women’s organizations and civil society groups should be consulted in the review and development of national laws and policies. As a matter of procedure, all laws and policies should be subjected to gender assessment before they are adopted, and the capacity of the Parliament for such purpose should be built. It should set up a mechanism to undertake a gender assessment of all legislative proposals and such mechanism should function in close consultation with MOWA and gender advocates.

6. Despite the adoption of NAPWA in March 2009, the strategy for its implementation has not yet been clarified. MOWA and the Cluster on Governance should immediately adopt and issue a set of guidelines to accelerate the implementation of NAPWA, particularly in provinces where the needs of women are most serious. The government should also adopt gender sensitive standards for the review, design, implementation, reporting, and monitoring and evaluation of the government’s national priority programs to ensure that they will advance the status of women in accordance with the priorities set under the NAPWA. All existing national programs should also be redesigned to attain the six gender sensitive targets of Afghanistan’s MDGs.

7. The rejection by Parliament of the two recent female candidates for the Ministries of Women and Public Health without clear justifications and blatant disregard for the advocacies of women supporters has been very disappointing. Likewise, the 2009 Presidential and Provincial Council Elections marked a decline in women’s political participation, due largely to lack of planning on the part of the government to address Afghan women’s specific challenges and opened the door for reported manipulation of women’s votes for fraudulent purposes. We urge the GoIRA to take stock of where it is now in fulfilling its commitments under the Millennium Development Goal 3 to increase female representation in elected and appointed bodies at all levels of governance to 30% by 2020. In the newly set up government, we strongly press for at least 30% representation of women as decision makers – i.e. as members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court, and as deputy ministers, governors, mayors, and advisers to the President and high level policy mechanisms of government. This is a special imperative to ensure that women are included in peace, reconciliation and security discussions.

8. The incidence of violence against women, especially physical violence such as murder, repeated battering, and sexual abuse, continues to be pervasive. A fragile justice system that is incapable of providing effective response contributes to the perpetration of this problem. Existing policy debates around women's political participation tend to overshadow the more urgent need to protect women from violence. The UN Special Rapporteur should pay attention to this reality and systematically raise the issue at the proper level to find swift solutions, including the development of capacities among the pillars of the justice system, health, and educational institutions in order to prevent, protect and secure justice for Afghan women who experience violence.

9. In the implementation of the Sub-national Governance Policy, the accountability and mechanism for ensuring gender responsiveness of sub-national governance should be established. It is recommended that local councils on gender equality be formed within high level bodies that make policies/decisions and coordinate actions on sub-national development. Likewise, there is a need to assess the effectiveness of national programs in promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality. We reject the practice of using women-specific resources to build infrastructures and other projects without consultation with women, and we urge that such resources be used for the development of women’s capacities.

10. Aid effectiveness has been an issue in Afghanistan. More and more resources for peace and development in the country are being used outside of the government framework for projects that are seen as unsustainable and not in line with the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) priorities. More importantly, such projects have not been effective in promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality. The Elimination of Violence against Women Special Fund administered by UNIFEM should be used as an example of how donors could work together and more effectively around a gender issue. There is a need for an oversight body on aid effectiveness for Afghanistan to address this issue. The TOR of this body should include attention to cross cutting concerns including gender and should make provisions for voices of women to be heard in its planning and decision making activities.

11. The quota or affirmative policies in the Constitution had shown very positive results. We urge the government to expand the implementation of quota and other affirmative action policies to promote the participation of women in all aspects of life.

12. We are concerned about the systematic exclusion of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) from vital processes and mechanisms, including in the London Conference on Afghanistan. We recommend that MOWA be a member of the Governance Cluster. Its participation in all levels of policy making should be ensured and support should be provided to continue the strengthening of its capacity for policy advocacy on women’s empowerment and gender equality. In addition, representation of women in all government clusters must be ensured.

14. The Terms of Reference (TORs) for international advisors to be deployed in Afghanistan should incorporate clear requirements for gender capacity. We also demand that gender balance and gender perspective be ensured in the selection of advisors to be deployed in the country.

C. Regional Engagement

We have very positive experiences on regional cooperation around the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality within the region. However, many of our engagements with groups and counterparts in the neighboring countries continue to be outside of the national framework for regional cooperation. We urge the government to give women a space in re-thinking the focus and scope of its regional cooperation framework and consider gender as a key aspect of regional engagement on security, reintegration, and economic cooperation.

The absence of gender perspective on regional cooperation is evident. The government should utilize the existing regional coordination and cross border agreements to promote women’s advancement, particularly on women’s trade, capacity development, education, health, leadership, participation in the regional peace processes, and strengthening of national women’s machineries. The governments in the region should involve their national women’s machineries in their regional cooperation initiatives and ensure that such cooperation fosters women’s well being across borders.

We expect the international community and our government to consider the above statements and recommendations and pay attention to the voices of Afghan women whose perspectives, energies and potentials are essential to sustainable peace and the attainment of the goals of the ANDS.

On our part, we commit to:

Utilize the above analysis and recommendations to mobilize nationwide engagement of Afghan women in national and local development processes, including the preparations for the Kabul Conference;

Foster solidarity and sisterhood among Afghan women, leading to the development of a vibrant Afghan women’s movement with support base in all provinces;

Continue to build our partnership with men in every possible opportunity and initiate a dialogue towards a shared vision to strengthen their roles and contributions to the promotion of gender equality;

Further strengthen our partnership with international agencies working for the promotion of women’s advancement, especially in providing meaningful and organized support to the government in implementing NAPWA and other commitments on gender equality; and

Optimize the use of media and non-traditional communication technology to accelerate sharing of information and improve communication among women, organizations and individuals working for the advancement of Afghan women.

Adopted this 24th January 2010 in Metropolitan Dubai Hotel, City of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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