Published on 08 Jul 2012 at 02:04
Afghan civil society activist and director of the civil society organization, Equality for Peace and Democracy (EPD), Nargis Nehan, expresses her concerns about ‘peace negotiation’ and ‘security transition’ processes. “Given the strong presence of extremists and anti-women elements in the Afghan government, women’s rights may fall victim to the peace negotiation process,” she said, in an interview with www.bamdad.af.
Nehan is one of 30 representatives attending the Tokyo Conference on behalf of Afghan civil society. “We should not rely on the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan Forces alone. The international community should make a strong commitment at the Tokyo Conference to safeguard the past ten years’ achievements in different fields, particularly civil society development and women’s living conditions. It should commit to prevent any potential political, social or economic crises in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014.”
At the Tokyo Conference, what should be addressed with the international community to further develop civil society and improve the lives of women?
We recommend that the international community make a long-term and practical commitment to preserve the past decade’s achievements and support the Afghan government, civil society groups, women’s rights organizations and the private sector.
Afghan civil society organizations prepared a proposal for the Tokyo Conference, in which the government is asked to appoint five women ministers and appoint women deputy ministers in all ministries. Through this, women can advocate for their rights and monitor political processes in the country.
Strong international support is needed at central and provincial levels so that civil society organizations are able to institutionalize democracy.
In addition, we ask the international community and donor countries to engage Afghan civil society and women’s advocacy organizations in state building and democracy institutionalizing processes. We ask them to support civil society organizations in playing a substantive and proactive role in building society, not just to be considered a side project. This is a sustainable process, but demands international support.
Under this proposal, strong international support is needed at central and provincial levels so that civil society organizations are able to institutionalize democracy, defend human rights and women’s rights, and increase public awareness to respect those rights.
Afghanistan’s civil society organizations have put forth similar proposals for several other international conferences. What has been the international response to these proposals?
Unfortunately, the international community has not yet taken any action. The reason behind this, according to the international community, is that our proposals are political and implicate the Afghan government, and it cannot interfere with the internal affairs of a country.
Although the international community encourages the Afghan government to respect women’s rights, it does not place conditions on its support that could force the government to increase women’s participation in governmental organizations as we propose.
Afghan women have the right to fight injustice and prevent violations of their rights.
In fact, if the international community put pressure on the Afghan government to ensure women’s rights, it could be considered foreign interference. Afghan women have the right to fight injustice and prevent violations of their rights. Such attempts demand public support and government cooperation. Indeed, international cooperation with Afghan women will be on an intellectual basis and through indirect support.
People should demonstrate a willingness to solve their own problems. However, the international community always insists on women’s participation in governmental organizations, but it does not articulate what that level of women’s participation should be.
Even so, the Afghan government has considered women’s demands since its establishment and Afghan politicians’ opinions regarding the presence of women in government has changed positively.
Recently, Afghan civil society elected its representatives to attend the Tokyo Conference. How many people will represent Afghan civil society?
Afghan civil society elected 30 people to attend the Conference during a gathering in Kabul. Out of these, 14 are from Kabul-based civil society organizations and 16 are from provincial organizations.
Among the 30 representatives, a man and a woman will represent civil society during the Conference. The rest will visit with representatives of donor countries to discuss our proposals.
What do you think are the main challenges to be addressed by the international community in Afghanistan?
Given the current situation in Afghanistan, both the peace and security transition processes are important for Afghan people. We want to ensure the country’s stability and agree with the peace negotiation with the Taliban. But, [this negotiation] has many concerns. Given the strong presence of extremists and anti-women elements in the Afghan government, women’s rights may fall victim to the peace negotiation process. The Taliban didn’t even change their policy towards women and their rights. Limitations on women would be imposed if they [Taliban] gain power.
The international community should emphasize free and fair elections in Afghanistan, peaceful transition of power, and prevention of economic crisis after foreign troop withdrawal.
We are concerned about the security transition process as well. The security transition alone cannot solve all the problems; political and economic transitions have greater importance than the security transition. The international community should emphasize free and fair elections in Afghanistan, peaceful transition of power, and prevention of economic crisis after foreign troop withdrawal.
All Afghans share similar concerns about future elections, economic conditions, as well as the past decade’s achievements that might be threatened by the involvement of extremists and insurgents.
I would add that armed Taliban are not the only problem for Afghan women, but also the involvement of many extremist groups and anti-women elements within government are raising our concerns. Probably, they would change their position against women’s rights following foreign troop withdrawal in 2014. For instance, although Afghanistan’s Council of Ulema (Religious Scholars’ Council) accepts the Constitution, it releases statements against women’s rights and this is very concerning.
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