Afghanistan's High Peace Council: Women Make the Difference
In July 2010, the Peace and Reconciliation Process was launched to build sustainable peace and security in Afghanistan using political, economic and social approaches to engage a broad range of stakeholders. Unlike previous peace efforts, Afghan anti-government militants and illegal armed groups were sought out to engage with the process. The Peace and Reconciliation Process is now a top priority of the Islamic Republic Government of Afghanistan and is entirely supported by the international community. The High Peace Council (HPC) sets the agenda by leading in political and strategic decision-making. The HPC’s secretariat is responsible for program implementation. Peace-building programs are led by governors in the provinces through the Provincial Peace Committees (PPCs). The purpose of the HPC is to peacefully engage anti-government militants, encourage them to accept the Afghan Constitution, and provide opportunities for militant groups to take part in peace talks and negotiations.
Women’s role in the peace process and the principles of supporting conventions
National reconciliation, solidarity, and building peace on the basis of equality is the central programmic goal of the Afghan Government, as established in it’s Constitution. Article 22 of the Constitution emphasizes that all Afghan citizens, both men and women, have the same rights and responsibilities before the law. Additionally, Afghanistan signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2003, which was designed to end discrimination against women and support the full development and advancement of women.
In 2000, the UN Security Council passed the landmark UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. UNSCR 1325 recognized the gendered impacts and experiences of armed violence on women for the first time. The Resolution emphasizes the active role of women in decision making, supporting women’s needs in conflict zones, and taking gender roles into account in peacekeeping and security. The Resolution also supports the active participation of women as defenders, mediators, and negotiators of peace talks.
In effort to fulfill these commitments, the Afghan government has developed a National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA), which outlines the policy to support women’s development, rights, and social and economic participation.
Thus far, there have been only nine women in the HPC. Their role had been mostly symbolic with little to no decision-making authority within the previous structure of HPC. However, as a result of consistent advocacy efforts by women rights activists and civil society with support from international partners, more women are now included in the decision-making stages of the HPC.
"As a result of consistent advocacy efforts by women rights activists and civil society with support from international partners, more women are now included in the decision-making stages of the HPC."
Previously, women were only free to take part in the seminars and workshops launched by the HPC. Now, for the first time, women have the opportunity to take part in the peace talks and some main political resolutions, expressing their voice in decisions regarding ongoing processes and including women’s demands in meetings. Dr Habiba Surabi, Deputy of the High Peace Council, participated in formal peace talks with Islamic Party of Afghanistan and voiced women’s concerns and rights before and during the peace negotiations.
Currently, 12 out of 72 delegates in the HPC and Provincial Peace Committees members are female, including one deputy - Mrs. Habiba Sarabi – and four out of 24 executive committee members - Habiba Sarabi, Hasina Safi, Sediqa Balkhi and Fariha Azimi. The executive committee, holding sessions on monthly basis, is mainly responsible for setting the High Peace Council agenda.
Based on HPC’s new policy, Provincial Peace Committees's (PPC) members are appointed in proportion to the population of each province. There are 2 to 3 women in each providence's PPC, which each play a key role in socio-cultural peace-building.The female members at HPC have played an active and significant role in maintaining good working relations between members, expansion in activities, and strengthening practical and logical mechanisms to encourage civil society and women to support the peace process.
Women rights activists’ role in supporting women's participation in governance and decision-making rolls
Civil society organizations warmly welcome and support the recent changes in the HPC. There has been a 21% increase in recruiting women as a result of their advocacy efforts. Nonetheless, women human rights defender organizations are concerned about the low levels of women’s participation in decision making positions. Acting on their concerns, they have established advocacy platforms to support women in peace talks and processes, as well as those working in the security sector. These platforms include the Advocacy Committee for Increasing Women’s Participation in Peace Process led by Women and Children Legal Research Foundation – WCLRF. Women’s rights activists including the Afghan WRN Country Coordinator, and Women’s Regional Network are also members of this committee.
There has been a 21% increase in recruiting women as a result of their advocacy efforts. Nonetheless, women human rights defender organizations are concerned about the low levels of women’s participation in decision making positions.
The network’s biggest concern is the marginalization of women’s participation in the peace process, a concern shared with international partners. The Advocacy Committee has assessed the active and meaningful role of women through political participation in the peace process, listed as follows:
Unequal political treatment and opportunity. Some women are facing unequal political treatment. There are some male members in the HPC from tribal elders, many of whom previously worked with the Taliban. They don’t believe equal rights for women and men, which has caused women to be inactive in the peace council indeed.
Lack of necessary coordination among women in the HPC. Although women are introduced at the HPC through civil society organizations and political parties, they are not supporting or working together at an adequate level. They have not been unified advocacy or governance efforts.
Rampant gender discrimination. Male members at the HPC are discriminatory towards female member, which has been recorded by the civil society networks. This has created concerns among female HPC members and has decreases their participation and presence in the council.
Incomplete policy implementation of women quota in the HPC. The Afghan National Action Plan on 1325 mandates an increase of almost 30% for women in the council, but women still only make up 21% despite the tireless struggle and advocacy work of women lead civil society. The National Unity Government (NUG) Ministry of Foreign Affairs and High Peace Council have failed on implementing the National Action Plan and UNSCR 1325.
Weak participation and partnership. At the moment, all decisions are made or taken by men at the High Peace Council and women’s role is suffocated or invisible.
The government must support women rights activist organizations working on National Action Plan to implement UNSCR 1325 and support meaningful participation of women in peace process, as well as their meaningful participation the High Peace Council and provincial committees.
Women who are members of the HPC and are experts in peace building, both in and out of this council, should actively take part and get involve in peace negotiations, discussions, mediations and peace talks.
During the peace negotiations with militant groups, the 15 years’ achievements of women and women’s rights should be safeguarded and secured. There should be struggled to maintain the rights of women and their defending regulations.
Access to information is one of the main suggestions of women and their activists. There should be not a single negotiation without the presence of fully informed women representatives. They must be provided with all data and information related to the negotiations, talks, demands, conditions and promises.
The international organizations must provide some practical programs to accommodate the National Action Plan.