Foreign Policy Reports

Women, Peace, and Security in Afghanistan

It’s been 15 years since the UN passed UNSCR 1325. How has Women, Peace, and Security policy changed in Afghanistan and the Congo since then?


Women, Peace, and Security in Afghanistan

Oct. 31, 2000, was a landmark day in the fight for women’s rights. The United Nations Security Council adopted UNSCR 1325 recognizing the disproportionate impact that war and conflicts have on women and children. It was soon followed by seven additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, and 2242) ensuring full and equal participation of women in post-conflict reconstruction, peace, and security. But ironically, as this landmark resolution celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, experts say that it is far from achieving its goals and has failed in adequate implementation.

In one of the most significant post-conflict peace talks of 2015, in July between the Afghan government and the Taliban, not a single representative was a woman. “We are concerned and unhappy that we have not been consulted. They have not been very transparent with women about the peace process,” says Hasina Safi, director of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), an umbrella institution that represents 140 women’s organizations in Afghanistan. Sadly, this is not a unique situation. In most post-conflict peace processes women have been given piecemeal roles, if at all any.

Protection versus Participation

Melanne Verveer, who heads the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and spearheaded the UNSCR 1325 efforts in the United States in her role as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, feels protection from sexual violence has taken prominence over participation in conflict zones. “There is still a huge chasm between what the Security Council resolution intended and what it has promulgated. The past resolutions have chiseled the importance of protection of women from sexual violence that has become dominant in many of these conflicts. On the other hand, the pillar for participation can be viewed as antithetical to protection. That is a forward-looking role that women have to play and they need to be at the table,” she explains to me.

Women have been missing from the table not just in Afghanistan but many other fragile, conflict and violence (FCV) affected countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, South Sudan, and Uganda. Cordaid and the Global Network of Women and Peacebuilders are two development organizations working towards the effective implementation of UNSCR 1325 in FCV countries. They feel one of the biggest hurdles is the lack of political will at the country level. “They don’t see gender as [a] priority, and especially peace and security. When the country has a gender ministry, it is usually the weakest ministry in terms of human resources and funding,” says Dewi Suralaga, policy adviser at Cordaid.

Lack of Political Will

Sandra Uwiringiymana is a survivor of the DRC conflict and now advocates for girls living in conflict. Now 11 years later, she still vividly remembers the night of the Gatumba massacre, when her sister was killed in front of her eyes and other women brutalized at a refugee camp. “It was around 10 pm at night…I was dozing off and my little sister too was sleeping. I was 10 and she was 6. I just remember being in a bed in a tent, when we heard a shot and my mom woke me up saying that we are under attack. We were hiding under a mattress. I watched as the two attackers walked in and killed my little sister, aunt, and two cousins. My mother and I survived as other bodies fell on us. I remember lying like that for hours. The assault was brutal; the rebels cut open the stomach of pregnant women so they could see what the fetus looked like.” As a survivor of this brutal attack, Uwiringiymana has now become a voice for other women in conflict. She feels that the DRC government should include these women’s voices in decision making.

Neema Namadamu, a women’s rights activist, expresses similar concerns as Sandra. Having an insider’s view of the DRC government after working as an adviser for the national ministry for gender and family, she says the patriarchal system is a barrier. “The main problem is that we really don’t have access to decision making. I know how the system works. The government thinks that it isn’t right for women to get positions. They use women for international image, to show that women have position[s], but in reality they have no voice,” says Namadamu.

Namadamu goes onto highlight another critical problem that hinders the implementation of women, peace, and security — funding. “We are always talking about getting money for the implementation of UNSCR 1325, but haven’t seen any money on the ground,” she adds.

Where is the money?

In 2013, $35.5 million was committed by G8 members towards women, peace, and security to help victims of sexual violence and prevent further attacks in war affected countries, but aid organizations working on ground say the money has failed to reach where it’s most needed. “We work very closely with women’s organizations on the ground and all of them are saying that they have not accessed a single cent for the implementation of [UNSCR] 1325 and 1820. Where is the money from the G8 funding going?” questions Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, an international coordinator with GNWP.

Despite many donors funding women, peace, and security in conflict countries, experts and activists working on ground believe that the money is channeled in other projects and very little is directed towards the real issues. “Donors promise millions and millions of dollars for Afghanistan, but if you really analyze it, you will see that even 0.5 percent does not reach the people on [the] ground who really deserve it. One can say that the donors want to support but they don’t know how to,” says Hasina Safi from AWN.

Who needs a National Action Plan?

Afghanistan adopted its National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security in June this year. The NAP looks at bolstering the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and including women in all aspects of conflict resolution and peace negotiations. Until now, only 48 out of 193 countries have implemented NAPs on Women, Peace and Security. With gender not a priority for many governments, many countries have also refused to have a NAP. “Many governments say that they are not conflict countries and that’s why they don’t need a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. India also says that it is not a conflict country but what about northeast India?” says Suralaga of Cordaid.

Even donor countries like the United States are slow to join the NAP bandwagon, passing a NAP in 2011, 11 years after UNSCR 1325 was passed. A NAP in the United States — a donor country — is crucial, since the United States can ensure women, peace, and security in other conflict countries. “The NAP for [the United States] is externally oriented. They need to also look internally and avoid doing things that can disrupt peace and security in conflict countries. They contribute a lot to obstruct peace and security and yet their NAP doesn’t look into their defense policies,” says Suralaga.

Channelizing and Monitoring Funds

Implementing UNSCR 1325, and the subsequent resolutions, cannot be only about military efforts to prevent sexual violence; it also needs to be focused on ground initiatives to ensure participation of women. Cordaid, GNWP, and the U.N. Women are working on the Global Acceleration Instrument (GAI) that aims to close gaps between funding and implementation. It focuses on national and local level implementation, specifically through NAPs. “Many of these NAPs have not been implemented because of lack of funding. NAPs are gathering dust on the shelves of government bureaucracy,” adds Cabrera-Balleza from GNWP. The GAI that will be launched on the 15th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 looks at short-term funds by donors with a five-year evaluation plan. It will focus on urgent implementation and a monitoring mechanism on the where the money is spent.

Fifteen years after the landmark U.N. resolution on women, peace, and security and 20 years after the Beijing Platform for Action, women still continue to be on the margins for sustainable nation building and peace processes. Along with increased and channelized funding, what is also needed is a shift in attitude towards women — a country and community that gives their women due importance and a government that treats them as equals. “We hear that the government is lacking confidence on the capacity of women. They say that there are not enough qualified women to be strong leaders. I want to tell them that despite the hurdles in the past 14 years, we Afghan women have proved that we are strong enough to lead,” says Safi as she looks at the next 15 years with confidence and optimism.


The Pariahs of the Global Refugee Flood
The term “refugee” should be expanded to include more than those fleeing conflict. South Asians looking for better opportunities or displaced by climate change should be included too.

NOVEMBER 20, 2015

The dark eyes and hair of the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Afghans almost blend with the other migrants’. The brown skin tones are also not giveaways, but ask them where they come from, and you notice the hesitation — trying hard to blend into the crowd of Syrian migrants at Europe’s border crossings, afraid of being spotted and sent back.

“When they find out about our nationality, we are pushed back in the line. The others get priority to board the buses. I have been waiting here at the railway tracks for two nights now. I hope I can board the bus for Hungary tomorrow,” Abbas, a 32-year-old Bangladeshi, told me in Tovarnik, Croatia. Abbas is not alone in trying to navigate the challenging politics of Europe’s refugee and migration crisis. More than 6,000 Bangladeshis were intercepted at the border crossing points of European Union member states between January and July 2015, according to data from Frontex, the European Union’s external border management agency. (Afghans and Pakistanis make up 11 percent and 1.8 percent of migrants intercepted in Europe respectively.)

Abbas falls on the wrong side of the line drawn between refugees fleeing political oppression and migrants seeking better opportunities. Many European governments — who are worried about this huge influx of non-Syrians — are drawing distinct lines between the two. And the distinction matters greatly. Unlike refugees who generally have access to faster entry mechanisms and social benefits, migrants are dealt with under states’ typically slower and restrictive immigration laws and procedures. Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, called the migration of people from relatively safer places “unacceptable” and has warned that most Afghans would be deported.

Sitting calmly at the railway tracks, Abbas tells me that he left his home in Bangladesh four years ago. “There was no work and no money to feed my family. After crossing over to India, an agent promised to get me work in Turkey, but instead, he put me on a plane to Azerbaijan. I worked in Azerbaijan for a year and then came to Greece. I was working at the BMW factory. But many South Asians have started to leave Greece a year ago. The economy is going down, and for that reason, getting your paper work done is becoming very difficult.” Abbas adds, appearing embarrassed, “I was in jail for a few months because of no papers, and then I decided to leave.” His friend, 23-year-old Porosh who worked as a dishwasher at a hotel in Greece notes, “I didn’t have to do the dishes by hand like in Bangladesh. It isn’t that bad. But I now want to go to France.”

Abbas left Bangladesh for economic reasons and thus is not at the center of the current discussion of the “refugee crisis” that focuses on Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country. However, to simply label Abbas –and others like him — an economic migrant obscures the narrative. Geoff Dabelko, the director of the Environmental Studies program at Ohio University and a member of U.N. Environment Program Expert Advisory Group, said that calling the Bangladeshis coming to Europe “economic migrants,” while true, is insufficient. “We can call them economic migrants, but for many people coming from Bangladesh it is intertwined from environmental conditions that are pushing them to move,” says Dabelko.

A 2012 ActionAid report labels Bangladesh a hotspot for displacement due to climate change. It finds that more than 50 million people there are affected by disasters every five years, and approximately one-quarter of the country is inundated by floods annually. The 1998 flood overran up to 61 percent of the country, rendering 45 million people homeless.

Some caution against blurring the line between refugees and economic migrants. Roger-Mark De Souza, who heads the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center, argues that the term economic migrant remains fitting for the Bangladeshis traveling to Europe. “When we think of mobility and displacement there is a climate and economic angle to that. But people who migrate have additional assets that allow them to deal with the risks that include climate,” states De Souza.

Abbas, however, tells a different story. He says that he had to get out in search of work and money to feed his family. “That’s the reason we are here without our wives and families. It is not easy,” he adds.

The 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum in foreign countries from persecution in their home nation. In the past six decades, however, the convention has failed to expand the definition to include economic migrants or people displaced by climate change. Some experts argue that the convention needs to be more inclusive to address modern crises that are forcing people out of their homes.

When asked if the refugee convention should include climate-displaced people, Mary Robinson, the United Nations special envoy for climate change, said that more support programs and policies are necessary to address the issue of climate driven migration. “It is a big question. At the moment we are not honoring the refugee convention at all. It is being dishonored all over Europe and Asia. I am not going to predict what the right solution will be, but I will be part of engaging heavily in how we get the best possible result for those who are displaced by climate change,” said Robinson. Dabelko was more certain, but recognized the political limits, commenting, “It is critically important that our international laws take these issues into play. The nation states will never agree to have that formally added since the numbers would overwhelm. That does not mean, it should not be looked into.”

In the meantime, Abbas, Porosh, and thousands like them try to evade detention and deportation back to the poor and difficult conditions they came from. Stranded for two nights at the Serbia-Croatia border, they also remain stuck amid the definitional and legal debates over who should be let in and under what framework. Porosh still strikes an optimistic note: “I want to submit my papers in France and seek asylum in a legal manner. I know I may not be accepted but I will keep trying.” Abbas adds, “At least we will be able to send some back money home then.”


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