Defend women’s right to participation

By Rowan Harvey, Women’s Rights Advocacy Advisor at Action Aid UK.

In 2014 the fight for Afghan women’s rights will come to the UK as our government hosts the last global conference on the future of Afghanistan before NATO combat troop withdrawal.

ActionAid UK held an event on violence against women and girls in Afghanistan in March as part of our work for this year’s International Women’s Day and the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Shinkai Karokheil MP, spoke movingly about the vital need to increase women’s representation at all levels of decision making in Afghanistan – including the country’s High Peace Council, only six of the seventy members of which are women.

Despite quotas that have dramatically increased women’s representation in the Afghan Parliament, women MPs report that they are routinely ignored and sidelined by their male counterparts, dramatically reducing their effectiveness. Without a system of political parties, these women find that making alliances is difficult and often relies on personal wealth rather than the strength of their arguments. Add to this a context in which women who are active in politics and public life are routinely targeted for threats and violent attacks and it’s easy to see why so many capable women end up leaving the country and taking their talents elsewhere.

We all lose out when discrimination and violence stop women participating in the peace process. Women’s participation has been shown to be a vital part of building sustainable peace in families, communities and across whole countries, as detailed in a recent report by ActionAid, Womankind and IDS. Women prepared to put their lives on the line to promote peace and help rebuild Afghanistan deserve not just our respect, but also our active support.

And that’s where the UK conference next year becomes so important. It’s vital that the UK government take the opportunity to send a strong message that Afghan women have a right to participate whenever decisions are taken that affect them. The most obvious way they can do this is to ensure at least 30% of Afghan participants at the conference are female; ensuring both that they are at the table and that their voices are heard. Accepting anything less would make us complicit in the marginalisation of Afghan women and the denial of their rights.

Equally, we must ensure that the agenda reflects the priorities of both the men and women of Afghanistan. At the Tokyo conference, delegates highlighted the implementation of Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan as key issues on which they wished to see action. Since then, progress on meeting these commitments has been slow and it’s vital that this issue remains at the top of the agenda when they meet again. The UK government should start work now to action the commitments made at Tokyo and ensure participants are held to account.

We have an opportunity both to show strong leadership ourselves and to support the women of Afghanistan to do the same. It should not be missed.

To be part of the movement holding the UK Government to account on the promises it has made to Afghan women, join the No women, no peace. campaign here.