The second day of the civil society conference on Afghanistan in Bonn on Saturday was a packed day. We had an early start as Chitra and I had to collect our media passes as official The F-Word representatives to the conference, but it ended up being worthwhile: we were able to sit in on the civil society press conference and ask a pointed question on women’s rights.
Many of the civil society delegates had been raising the issue of Afghan women’s rights throughout the two days. Their key messages were fairly consistent and included:
- the importance of women being involved in the peace process
- the need for cultures of impunity to end and violators of women’s rights to be held to account
- the significance of the gains that had been made over the last ten years and the need to preserve and build on them
- the need for women’s rights to be a clear red line within any political settlement whoever the main parties to the discussions are (i.e. Taliban, warlords, other insurgents and power holders)
In and amongst the official delegate contributions, there were also many discussions outside of the formal interventions about what these ideas meant in practice, and the many ways in which civil society demands for more a more inclusive peace process were simply not being met. For example, we were starting to hear rumours that the number of women now comprising the official Afghan government delegation to the conference had been cut from thirteen to eleven.
We were also receiving news about the case of Gulnaz, who, according to Afghan women’s rights activists, had apparently been ‘pardoned’ by President Karzai and was due to be released from prison (she had been charged with ‘adultery’) if she agreed to marry her rapist. This raised alarms for us as it demonstrated the gap between the Afghan Government and the international community’s apparent focus on ‘security’ and women’s rights, and the reality for women in Afghanistan.
In this speech to the civil society conference, Dr Guido Westerwelle, the Foreign Minister for Germany said (not verbatim):
With Hilary Clinton at the London conference in 2010, we discussed and agreed tremendous importance needs to be assigned to the role of women in the transition process. The role and rights of women is a topic which we take very seriously, not only in the Afghanistan conference but in everyday work.
On the same panel, Dr Salmai Rassoul, Foreign Minister for Afghanistan similarly made much of women’s rights, saying women’s rights would be one of the Afghan government’s red lines in the peace process.
Indeed, every panel at the civil society conference made a point of highlighting that 16 of the 34 elected civil society delegates were women, with the proudest proponents being the German political foundations that had organized the conference. What they may not have realized was that men continued to dominate the speaking time, sometimes up to double the time that women spoke for (see tweets from @Nowomennopeace).
Gulnaz’s case raises serious questions about how seriously decision-makers are taking their own words at Bonn and what results Afghan women can actually count on from the process this weekend.
Photo of GAPS’ (Gender Action for Peace and Security) ‘No women, no peace.‘ campaign logo.