Beyond Borders; Women Parliamentarians Perspective on Regional Peace Building
By: Abdullah Athayi
In 2015, the hbs head office in collaboration with regional offices in Afghanistan and Pakistan arranged a delegation visit to Berlin and Brussels from to discuss country situation, women parliamentarians performance, gender equality, peace building, shrinking spaces for women rights activism, and share the findings of the comparative study “Unmaking Political Patriarchy through Gender Quotas?” with a wide range of stakeholders at the European level. Apart from the authors of the study, the delegation included two women parliamentarians and one civil society activist from each country. During the visit, the delegation not only attended the BMZ conference on “Economic Empowerment of Women-Unlock the Potential” but also met policy makers, Green Party politicians and parliamentarians. Further meetings included: Federal Foreign Office, Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Deputy Chair of the German-South Asian Parliamentary Friendship Group, Public Panel Discussion at Humboldt University, Department of South Asian Studies, Dinner meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan Embassies, NATO HQ, European External Action Service (EEAS) etc… The visit provided a crucial opportunity for women MPs and activists from both countries to update and influence policy makers and relevant stakeholders in Europe on the current situation and activities of women parliamentarians and women rights activists in conflict societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This article summarizes the main arguments and points raised during discussions, meetings and roundtables in Berlin and Brussels. Although the presentation of the comparative study “Unmaking Political Patriarchy through Gender Quotas?” was the main objective of the delegation visit, almost all meetings and discussions focused also on UNSCR 1325, women, peace and security, regional cooperation for peace-building, women parliamentarians’ expectations from international community and Germany regarding foreign & development policy, as well as and shrinking spaces for civil society and women’s activism in the region.
UNSCR 1325- Participation and issues of Women in Conflict and Peace Negotiation
Since its adoption in 2000, the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security has become an important element to ensure women’s equal participation in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building and peace-keeping in war-ravaged countries. Afghanistan has been a conflict zone for almost four decades and recently parts of Pakistan became insecure which caused to pay high cost. Women have been the main victims of conflict in both countries.
The Women delegates from both countries discussed commonalties of how women are on one side extremely affected by conflict, but also how they, on the other side, can transcend boundaries by working together as active agents in peace negotiations, security consultations and national decision making bodies. They pushed forward a similar agenda to protect women, girls and children in respective countries. In the case of Pakistan “Victimization due to gender-based violence in conflict settings generate protection challenges for women (and) girls along with agency issues as the conflict areas (in Pakistan) are marked by a tribal setup, characterized by no female inclusion in decision-making bodies, peace processes as well as in security forces”(Shaista Parvez, MP Pakistan). Afghan women and children suffer from Insurgency and insecurity everyday across the country Shinkai Karokhail, MP from Afghanistan stated that “We are not safe, not only me but also our kids, ISIS is the new version of Taliban killing people, women and kids. We would not be safe unless there is a safe region” ().
Since long time, Afghan women realized the significance of UNSCR’s 1325 implementation to protect women in conflict and ensure their participation in national politics. The necessity of meaningful participation of women in the High Peace Council (HPC) as well as presence of women’s voice and concerns in the security strategy planning and formulations moved women’s groups; civil society and the government to finalize UNSCR 1325 National Action Plan (NAP) in the year 2015. Although the NAP has been launched, there seems to be a big hesitation among women with regard to practical implementation on the ground since “It not only requires resources but also external oversight and monitoring to make the government accountable for realization of the NAP on the ground” (Shinkai Karokhail, MP Afghanistan). Sabrina Saqeb, civil society activist stated that women not only suffer from insecurity and insurgency but also from bad and corrupt governance. Considering the limited resources and capacities, women’s role in the High Peace Council was still constructive, however the main question is how to support their engagement there. As transformation starts from the local community level, women need to reflect the peoples perspective and interests (e.g. creating jobs, closely work with government and finally with HPC) to enhance their effective role and participation at national level.
The women parliamentarians as well as the civil society activists from both countries insisted on significance of gender quota and its consolidation and expansion which means gender quota do work to ensure women’s participation and representations in society and politics. In this persistent conflict situation the quota system has played a major role to ensure representation of women in national decision making bodies. In Pakistan, gender quota 20% for National Assembly or Majlis and 33% for local council supported women participation in society and politics against the persistence military intervention in politics and strong religious institution. In case of no gender quota for women’s representation in politics, women would have not been able to enter into politics and national decision making bodies “Gender quota played an effective role in women’s representation in politics as they have become a role model for the rest of society”. (Farzana Bari, Women rights Activist from Pakistan).
In case of Afghanistan, gender quota is the right solution for women representation in politics as long as the conflict continues and democracy institutionalizes. In Afghan politics gender quota has a direct link to electoral reform, political system and the peace process which ensure women’s representation and agenda issues not only in electoral process but also peace negotiations and political structures. This system has been widely accepted by institutional actors, civil society, political parties and society and people. Afghan women delegates demand more leadership roles for women in other positions through the quota system, for instance in district councils, for which a gender quota has been debated over the last year. This has been the main agenda of women in the Special Electoral Reform Commission, which was appointed by the president and mandated to reform the laws, policies and structures of the electoral process. After a lengthy debate over women representation in district councils the president approved 25% reserved seats for their meaningful representation in district councils.
Regional cooperation for peace-building,
Since international intervention, peace building was one of the main indicators for realization of democracy and sustaining the post 2001 achievements in Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade. During the delegation visit the issue of peace building with focus on women’s protection and participation was prominent in all discussions and meetings, since women will never feel safe unless there is a safe region. Women are the primary victims of the growing radicalization in the region as the extremists oppose women’s participation in society and politics on an ideological basis. Peace building is considered to be linked to the democratization process and if we fail to bring peace, the structures, institutions and processes would reverse back. “There would be no development, electoral reforms and good governance unless there is not peace.”(Sabrina Saqeb).
At the broad level, women delegates from Afghanistan and Pakistan frankly touched to political aspects of peace building in the region. The discussion revealed some of the points in which the counterparts and international community understand the ground realities in terms of peace negotiations and their involvement in the process as women are the primary victims of conflict and insurgency in the region. During the meetings, the role of the international community, particularly Germany deemed extremely necessary for peace building in the region. The international community should realized the situation in the region and support it until the root of extremism eliminated. Recently religious extremists with linkages to ISIS, who are operating with a global mandate, launched activities in Afghanistan, taking advantage of the instability in the country to expand ISIS’s territory. This definitely poses a major threat to the international community, as well as the gains women achieved over the last years. The Afghan delegates therefore urged German parliamentarians, stakeholders and policy makers to commence its crucial role for ensuring peace in the region: “after 14 years of intervention, international community needs to reassess the definition of terrorism and push the regional countries for honest cooperation in peace negotiation, to be more specific, their engagement is crucial in terms of political support, resources and pressure.” (Shah Gul Rezaie, MP Afghanistan). They also mentioned that NATO should not withdraw from Afghanistan unless problems are solved their departure without having settled peace would alter the situation to another era of safe haven for insurgence and radicalized groups.
When it comes to women rights issues women delegates from both countries pushed forward almost the same agenda and deemed women’s role and contribution crucial towards peace building in the region. “Before bringing peace in the region, we need to realize each other, people in both countries want stability, security, education employment and prosperity life” (Shazia Marri, MP Pakistan). Peace/ stability and development are two face of one coin. Economic cooperation could be the starting point. Women delegates also concentrated on implementation of 1325 and Track II dialogues to bring peace for the region. People to people as well as women to women contact and a lot of activities need to be done to bring peace. “During our visit to Berlin, I found out that interaction between the two nations is crucial we can intensify our work in Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than visiting Europe” (Shazia Marri, MP Pakistan). “However, people to people contact and civil society interaction is crucial but at the end of the day who is decision maker, our activities need to be led in a way to influence the policies and strategies to ensure peace in the region.” (Shah Gul Rezaie, MP Afghanistan). Women delegates also emphasized on inclusion of women in peace negotiation as women activists, progressive and liberal voices are missing in the regional peace-building process.
Shrinking spaces for civil society and women’s rights activism
The rise of Daesh/ ISIS, the height of radicalization and extremism in the region, restricts the realm of civil society and women rights activism. However women leaders and civil society activist are being systematically targeted by different extremist groups and actors, who discredit the engagement for basic human rights, which emanates from the society, as western agenda. The threats originate from different actors like ISIS/ Daesh, Taliban and religious extremists such as extremist mullahs. The collapse of the Northern Afghan city of Kunduz is a tragic example for the risks civil society activists, women rights groups, and employees of NGOs and international organizations are undertaking in their daily work in Afghanistan The Taliban systematically targeted NGO offices to get access to information including addresses, phone numbers and photos.
Afghan delegates also stated that due to heighten insecurity and existence of insurgencies, women representatives in Wolosi Jirga (House of Representatives) could not reach out to their constituency on regular basis compared to two year ago.
In the case of Pakistan insecurity and religious militancy shrinks the space not only for women rights activists but also for members of political parties. The Pakistani delegates remarked that women parliamentarians could not reach out their constituencies in some part of Pakistan. The space for civil society is marked by rising religious radicalization and militancy. Human/women rights need to be protected either through legislation or other means. “The space is shrinking for progressive voices, members of political parties are threaten, women could not raise voices and extremists limited their voices” (Shazia Marri, MP Pakistan among others)
Expectations from the International community and Germany regarding foreign and development policies
The members of the Women Parliamentarian delegation have raised numerous expectations with their interlocutors which may have positive effects for themselves as women or their respective governments and societies as a whole:
- International community and particularly Germany should support competent research staff to support policy making and legislation in the Afghan parliament.
- International engagement in the peace negotiations is crucial particularly in terms of political support, resources and pressure for honest cooperation of relevant stakeholders.
- Conditionality in terms of funding is essential to make the government accountable for women’s inclusion in peace negotiation and leadership positions.
- Air forces are needed for effective military operations against Taliban and Daesh/ISIS and ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan
- International community and Germany shall support to ensure capacity building and inclusion of women in decision making institutions at various levels and areas.
- Women and their participation, voices and concerns needs to be the focal point for political and electoral reforms.
- UN efforts and resolution are needed to settle present conflict issues in particular the India-Pakistan conflict.
- Inclusion of women, progressive and liberal voices in regional peace building is essential in this regard, Germany and international community should help to push them for peace-building and dialogues in the region.
Afghanistan & Pakistan
- Track II dialogues and people to people contact could resolve trust deficit between the nations and lead to better understanding of the common interest, opportunities and realities in terms of regional peace building.
- Exchange visit between women MPs of Afghanistan and Pakistan and establishing a Women Friendship Group in which women could exchange experiences, knowledge and lesson learned is essential.
- Bringing module and lessons learned from Germany and France (Elysee Treaty) is vital for Afghanistan and Pakistan to build trust and confidence and reach to a sustainable peace in the region.
The gender quota has been reviewed for the first time in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the necessity of gender quota for women’s representation in politics in both countries along with the challenges women face in society. In a war-torn society the gender quota has enabled women to take seats in national decision making bodies, peace process and security to serve their society. In both countries, women’s participation in politics through gender provision has provided constructive lessons for all women and they became role models for the rest of society. It became clear during discussions that the implementation of UNSCR 1325 is a crucial element to support and protect women in society. The role of international community is important to encourage the governments to provide necessary resources for developing and applying National Action Plans for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325.
Terrorism and insurgency are no longer in favor of the regional countries. People paid a high cost and suffered a lot over the years. In order to stabilize the region and reach a sustainable peace; it is time to focus on the definition of terrorism which victimizes women, men and children and to activate the role of civil society and media on various levels. The interaction between women parliamentarians, civil society activists, establishing a student union, building up relation between young leaders and media would enable the people to not only strengthen trust and confidence building but also shape the direction of government’s politics towards the interest of the people, co-existence and respect for territory. Insurgency particularly the rise of ISIS in the Southeast of Afghanistan along Pakistan’s border would pose a huge threat to both countries. Therefore, activating the civil society and media would influence the politics and bring necessary pressure on governments towards solving the long term conflict in the region.
 Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung – German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development