Photo: Adelie penguins in Antarctica. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. - Photo: 2021

Afghan Women’s Voices on Peace Heard with UN Mission’s Backing

By Devinder Kumar

NEW DELHI | KUNDUZ (IDN) — While the UN Security Council on March 14 “condemned in the strongest terms” the alarming number of attacks deliberately targeting civilians in Afghanistan, women activists were over several days knocking on doors in Kunduz, posing two questions to their relatives, neighbours and fellow residents of the city: “What does the peace process mean to you? How do you see your role in it?”

The members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern regarding the increase of these targeted attacks in the months following the start of the Afghanistan peace negotiations on September 12, 2020.

They recognized that “a sustainable peace can be achieved only through a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process that aims at a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, as well as an inclusive political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan”.

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), some 1,500 Afghan women have had their voices heard on peace—without them needing to leave their homes or have access to the internet—in a door-to-door programme conducted in the country’s northeast by the Afghan Women Network with support from the UN Mission.

UNAMA reported that women activists knocked on doors in Kunduz, posing two questions to their relatives, neighbours and fellow residents of the city: “What does the peace process mean to you? How do you see your role in it?”

The views expressed were then presented at a national level to the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) and UNAMA in Kabul, to be shared with the female members of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s Peace Negotiation Team. AWN Kunduz shared the views with provincial civil society and human rights defenders’ organisations.

Over three months of this winter, the UN-backed effort reached more than 1,500 women, many who have been homebound with little to no access to media and the world outside their homes.

Marzia Rustami, campaigner and head of AWN in Kunduz, explained that the goal was to engage with women who, due to the nature of their lifestyle at home, have had minimal or no access to the external world.

“We listened to their concerns, their views and their suggestions about what they want from the ongoing Afghanistan Peace Negotiations. What motivated us, has been our strong belief that the talks, and eventually, a final agreement, should reflect the views of all Afghans,” said Marzia Rustami.

Many of the interviewed women said it was the first time their opinions were being sought on an important national issue. 

The responders were given the choice as whether to withhold or provide their names.

Nasima, a housewife from Kunduz city District 2, had one simple message, “We want peace. The negotiators should agree to stop fighting so that we can live in peace.”

Another woman, Sharifa, said, “Talking about peace while killing each other is of no use. Without ending the violence and a ceasefire, talking about peace is futile.”

For Mariam, a widow whose husband and children were killed by the Taliban, peace is more important than revenge. “If the Taliban can stop the violence and accept peace, I will be ready to forgive them and not seek revenge for martyring my husband and children.”

Numerous other interviewees shared similar willingness to consider forgiveness in exchange for lasting peace and development for all. 

Across Afghanistan, many hope that a settlement will eventually be reached to end decades of war. However, many Afghans continue to express concern about diversity and broader inclusion in peace discussions. Youth and women worry that their underrepresentation in negotiations will exclude and adversely impact their rights in any final agreement. 

UNAMA supports the participation and leadership of women in all spheres of political, social and economic life, including in peace negotiations.

The UNAMA field office in Kunduz, in partnership with the Afghan Women’s Network, organised the campaign as part of national efforts to include diverse views in the peace discussions and process. It focused on women who have been side-lined due to a variety of reasons such as living away from city centres or being excluded due to lack of education or social norms.

The campaign was covered by media partners, Uranoos TV and Radio Kunduz including on their social media, and the women’s voices reached to over 200,000 audience. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 March 2021]

Image credit: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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