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Call to Action: Shahla Farid's Journey to the High Peace Council

Shahla Farid is a professor at Kabul University's Faculty of Law and Political Science, member of High Peace Council (HPC) in Kabul, practicing lawyer, and a women’s rights advocate. Previously she worked for the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) as head of the legal department. Her advocacy for women’s rights has made her the target of violence in the past, yet she persists in her work for peace and women’s equality. She has over 20 years of experience in community development engagement and is a widely published author. Her books include; Women’s Human Rights: Gender and Law; Violence Against Women and Its Solutions; A Comparative Study of Women's Rights in Islam: The Customs, Laws and International Instruments. Mrs. Farid wrote her Master’s thesis on the causes and consequences of honor killings in Afghanistan.

You are an experienced women’s rights activists and one of the few women members of the High Peace Council (HPC). Can you tell us about your motivations to work in this difficult, sometimes dangerous field?

As a women rights activist who has long felt the suffering of women in my country, I came to recognize that I had to contribute to Afghan political life, especially in peace-building and conflict resolution. Women have the most to lose from conflict and war, when democratic and human rights values are sacrificed. Women’s investment in these issues makes them highly effective in stabilizing nonviolent discourses, strengthening the central government and civil society.

I also felt an obligation to play a significant role as an educated woman, which led me to step forward and dedicate my work to voicing women’s concerns and rights. I have published dozens of academic articles and books on women's rights respected by Islam, the Afghan legal code, and international documents to which Afghanistan has pledged. In one project to increase women’s knowledge of their rights, I published small books that were accessible to all women at no charge.

I was the first woman to conducted workshops and trainings on UNSCR 1325 throughout Afghanistan on traditional methods of nonviolent conflict management with the support of a group of male and female paralegals in Bamiyan, Balkh, Jawzjan and Herat provinces. Most recently, I was honored to gain membership into the HPC expanding my services in support of women. Notably, I have been able to integrate the socio-cultural perspectives of peace-building into policies of the High Peace Council. This is all in addition to teaching at Kabul University, working as a women’s rights activist and board member of Afghan Women Network.

What is your analysis on women movements and role of women in conflict management and peace process in Afghanistan?

Women have been known to be great mediators and peacekeepers. Generally speaking, increasing the presence of women among peace negotiators and peace-keeping forces, and other critical actors, would enhance women’s contributions to conflict-resolution and post-conflict rehabilitation. Women’s active participation is crucial to countering extremist narratives and stopping policies intending to sideline their role and rights before, during, and after conflict.

In Afghanistan, however, this dream can only come true when men accept women as trusted allies and empowered partners at all levels of society. While women have proved that they are capable of restoring balance, a feeling of belonging, and creating a sense of purpose in their communities through community development initiatives and policy efforts, the majority of men undermine their efforts addressing them weak and untrustworthy. Women activists must act twice as responsibly and vigilantly in the political sphere, while persisting to empower women and lobby for their meaningful inclusion in the peace and security processes.

What are the major challenges for women to manage conflict and be part of peace process?

Women mediators have successfully addressed hundreds of conflicts at the local level in their communities and this success has followed women to the HPC. The presence of more women in the HPC, especially at senior levels, has helped promote a more inclusive environment. Still, there are challenges in place failing the mission, including:

  • Patriarchal perception of peace and conflict,

  • Culture of undermining women’s capabilities and skills,

  • Lack of solidarity among women rights activists;

  • Women’s symbolic role in HPC’s composition. Women still lack their effective decision-making role. Most of the decision-making power in the executive committee is held by men.

What are your recommendations for women’s meaningful participation in the peace process?

Afghanistan women activists need to:

  • Ensure their authentic voices are being heard by political actors, donors, civil society and the wider public;

  • Demonstrate that women can rise above partisan politics, grasp the wider development issues at stake and make useful contributions to the political dialouge;

  • Counter negative discourse around women’s engagement in civil and political life;

  • Participate in women-led advocacy initiatives;

  • Build the capacity of young peacemakers and train an expert cadre of women and men seeking peaceful solutions to existing challenges;

  • Advocate for increased participation of women in the peace and security processes;

  • Develop gender policies and guidelines, and provide technical support to the steering committee responsible to implement UNSCR 1325;

  • Hold advocacy meetings with high-ranking officials;

  • Hold the government responsible and monitor the commitments of the government in regard to implementation of the 1325;

  • Produce briefs and position papers evaluating the progress and the shortcomings.

What is your opinion on the recent changes at HPC? Are these women capable of working differently?

Since creation of the HPC in 2010, there has been a growing concern among women that although they have “a seat at the table” their effective participation is being undermined. Women have constantly strived to change the power dynamic within HPC’s structure, which has resulted in inclusion of more women on the basis of quality and expertise. Recently, eight new members have been selected to join the HPC, all of them women, with the help of civil society recommendations and WCLRF’s list that was shared to HPC. We, as members of Advocacy Committee for increasing Women’s Participation in the Peace Process, constantly monitored and jointly supervised any changes related to women’s participation in peace process, and demanded bigger changes in HPC and PPCs’ leadership. We appreciate those efforts, particularly WCLRF’s who consistently advocated for increasing women’s participation in the peace process, hence, the efforts ended up with inclusion of 8 more women in HPC’s structure. We welcome these changes! It is encouraging to see that four women – of 26 members - sit in the executive committee, the highest decision-making venue. We see the change with voices of women in the HPC during general assembly meetings. Women are now able to disagree and raise their voice, ending an era of a completely male dominant structure.

WCLRF in close cooperation with peace activists and Advocacy Committee for increasing Women’s Participation in the Peace Process, was constantly monitoring and jointly supervising any changes related to women’s participation in peace process, and demanding bigger changes in High Peace Council and Provincial Peace Committees’ leadership. Even though WCLRF welcomes the recent changes in HPC where numbers of women were selected with WCLRF list that was shared to HPC, women’s poor participation in peace process and ignoring their role has been one of the biggest concerns of the committee as well as the activists. It is encouraging to see that four women sit in executive committee of HPC which is the highest decision-making venue. Generally speaking, there is a change in voices of women in HPC during general assembly meetings. Women are now able to disagree and raise their voice as compared to earlier members in a completely male dominant structure. However, there are number of challenges identified while interviewing women both from High Peace Council as well as others interviewed for this paper.

In your opinion, what can Women’s Regional Network do to continue to have a positive impact and outcomes for women in the region?

I believe that exchanging experience and thoughts on advocacy, conflict management, and mediation are essential interventions most likely to result in changes at regional level.

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