Friday, 12 December 2014

Britain urged to give unstinting support for women's rights in Afghanistan

As foreign troops depart, activists urge government to use London conference to lobby for role of women in peacebuilding Afghan women’s voices must be heard to build a better country An Afghan election worker, second left, explains the process of elections to voters at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 5, 2014. Afghan voters lined up for blocks at polling stations nationwide on Saturday, defying a threat of violence by the Taliban to cast ballots in what promises to be the nation's first democratic transfer of power. An Afghan election worker explains the voting process to women at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph: Muhammed Muheisen/AP Clár Ní Chonghaile Friday 21 November 2014 00.01 GMT Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Google+ Shares 151 Britain must speak out forcefully to safeguard women’s rights in Afghanistan as fears grow that the fragile gains made during 13 years of US-led military intervention may be rolled back following the withdrawal of foreign troops. Women’s rights advocates are urging the British government to use the major conference on Afghanistan it is co-hosting on 3-4 December to send a clear message that women’s rights must be sacrosanct. They see it as a test of the government’s commitment to honouring promises it made in June on ending sexual violence in conflicts and getting more women involved in peacebuilding. “It’s really important to call on the British government to prove what they said, and turn this rhetoric into reality. There have been so many promises made in this last year … so let’s see something meaningful in the conference communique that really safeguards women,” said Kate Hughes, chairwoman of the Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS-UK) campaign group on Afghanistan and a campaigner at Amnesty UK. Supported by: About this content The London conference, which is being held before the official end of the international combat mission, comes as Afghanistan’s new power-sharing administration, led by the president, Ashraf Ghani, grapples with a renascent insurgency and a crippling shortage of funds. Taliban militants are regaining ground as analysts warn there is a risk that international donors may cut back funding once foreign troops leave. With no prospect of a military victory, Ghani – who was inaugurated in September after disputed elections – may have to push for peace negotiations with the Taliban and, in this context, any signs that the international community is backtracking on its commitment to women’s rights could have serious consequences, say activists. Rowan Harvey, a women’s rights advocacy adviser at ActionAid UK, said Britain had to show full, unflinching support for women’s rights. “We’ve made so many promises to Afghan women. We now have to recommit to realise those promises and say when that will happen. It’s good to hear the UK government say women’s rights will be a top priority for the conference … We have to act now. Women cannot do it on air,” she said. Heather Barr, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, added: “Any sign of disengagement by the international community on women’s rights is going to be seized on as an indication that it doesn’t really matter … It will have incremental effects immediately and it will have bigger … visible impacts before long, because there are people waiting to roll back laws to protect women.” Advertisement There had been concern about women’s rights being sidelined at the conference, but Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) has indicated that women will be actively involved throughout the two days. A DfID spokeswoman said: “There is no question that the rights of Afghan women and girls are a top priority for the UK and next month’s London conference on Afghanistan. We are working hard to ensure that Afghan women actively participate in the conference, and improving the lives of women and girls will be firmly on the agenda.” Rights groups urged the British government to show Ghani that the international community was serious about honouring commitments made under the 2012 Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF), such as ensuring human rights for all citizens, especially women and children, and implementing the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law and the National Action Plan for Women. The conference is meant to review progress against the provisions of the TMAF, but there have been reports that new Afghan administration may want to change the terms – a prospect that women’s rights activists say could seriously undermine commitments to ensure women’s security and political participation. They are also concerned about the prospect of women being excluded from any possible negotiations with the Taliban. “Women have been all too aware that if you have a peace negotiation process where the door shuts and there’s a bunch of people in the room and half are from the Afghan government and half are from the Taliban, there’s no one in that room who cares about women’s rights,” said Barr. Although women’s participation in the political process has increased, they are still underrepresented in decision-making forums. Only nine of the 70 members of the High Peace Council are women. While they make up about 28% of parliamentarians, there is evidence that traditional attitudes towards women persist. Some Afghan lawmakers have threatened to repeal the 2009 EVAW. There have been other signs of a reactionary resurgence, including the drafting of a law that would have reintroduced stoning as a punishment for adultery , and the passage of a law lowering the proportion of provincial council seats reserved for women. “There’s been a parade of attempted rollbacks … in the late days of the [former president Hamid] Karzai administration. The people in parliament who tried to do that are still in parliament. The people in the courts who came up with bad decisions are still in courts. We’re waiting and watching very closely to see if Ashraf Ghani is going to get rid of some of the people in his own government who are enemies of women’s rights,” said Barr. DfID says significant gains have been made over the past 13 years: nearly six million children now attend school, compared to one million in 2001, and nearly 40% of them are girls; maternal mortality has halved since 2001, and life expectancy has increased. The UK has pledged to provide development assistance of £178m a year up to 2017. However, campaigners are concerned that international funding may begin to dry up in the wake of the military drawdown, partly as a result of competing global crises, donor fatigue, and disappointment over corruption. “International funding is definitely something on everybody’s radar,” said Hannah Bond, director of GAPS-UK. “With the drawdown of troops … it is really important that women’s rights remain at the core of what is being done internally and also through donor support.” In addition to its other activities, the conference will also receive reports from a summit on empowering women in Afghanistanbeing held in Oslo on 23 November with participation from Afghan women’s groups, civil society groups and officials from Norway and the US.


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