Afghan Women Must be Included in Reconciliation Process
Dr. Sima Samar, who had just traveled from Afghanistan, testified before two Subcommittees of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Senators Barbara Boxer and Bob Casey this week and warned that Afghan women must be included in the reconciliation and reintegration process. She stated that the "reconciliation and reintegration cannot be successful without women's rights and human rights being guaranteed and women being included in all aspects of the rebuilding of Afghanistan. The process must be transparent in order to gain the public support of the Afghan people."
The Feminist Majority Foundation has initiated a campaign to underscore this demand. "We are alarmed the Afghan government did not include any women at the recent London conference on reconciliation," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Dr. Samar and Rachel Reid of Human Rights Watch both emphasized that Afghan women's rights and lives can not be traded away in any "peace" process.
The FMF applauded Senator Boxer's summarizing of the main points of the hearing: for reconciliation to succeed there must be "A commitment that the recently promulgated Afghan Violence Against Women Act will be enforced and that women would be guaranteed access to education, health care, employment, and political participation as well as a guarantee to constitutional rights." Boxer emphasized that "this is the moment" - the critical time - for women-s voices to be heard" as they develop the reconciliation/reintegration process.
"We are very encouraged," said Smeal that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released right before the hearing an updated Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy. The updated strategy includes "initiatives focused on women's security, women's leadership in the public and private sector; women's access to judicial institutions, education, and health services" as well as employment. The strategy "recognizes women as agents of change and their importance to our civilian stabilization plan."
Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, who presented strong testimony before the subcommittees on the importance of Afghan women and girls, said, "It is a simple fact that no country can get ahead if half of its population is left behind." Moreover she emphasized that "violence against women and girls in Afghanistan cannot be explained away as cultural or private; it is criminal and must be addressed as such."
Rachel Reid, a researcher from Human Rights Watch, who has lived in Afghanistan for the past three years, had also traveled from Afghanistan for the hearing. She presented a report to the subcommittee that included results of a series of interviews with Afghan women in Kabul and in districts where insurgents are strong. She concluded the interviews revealed that Afghan women want peace but "are concerned about the potential consequences of deals with insurgents for their basic rights…even those who are barely able to exercise these rights today." "Most women describe what could be considered 'non-negotiables'. These include access to education access to health care, freedom to work; freedom to participate in political life; and maintaining the constitutional protection of these rights. Many of the women expressed frustration that there is little transparency about the government's reintegration and reconciliation plans. They are well aware that initiatives and policies are currently being drawn up that will have enormous impact on them, but they have not been kept informed, let alone consulted."