Even though women’s representation and participation in both the public and private spheres has improved over the past two decades in Afghanistan, women’s position in legal terms is still inferior to that of men, women are still threatened by gender-based violence and they have limited access to social services. Moreover, Afghani women have been excluded for the most part from the possibility of participating in intra-Afghan peace dialogues as a result of the US-Taliban peace agreement, as previously pointed out by Gender Concerns.
The Afghan negotiating team initially appointed five women, yet, the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda has been even more threatened amid the Covid-19 pandemic than throughout the escalation of the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis. The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown measures have posed grave challenges on coalition building efforts of women’s organizations.
The constrains on movement and public gatherings do not allow these organizations to foster a safe and inclusive civic space in which they can contribute to the process of reaching a gender-inclusive peace settlement by facilitating mechanisms of inclusion and influence. Further, moving to an online space for the facilitation of peace dialogues revealed existing gender and class inequalities, as only 14% of the population has access to the internet, primarily in urban regions.
Furthermore, most of the efforts of women’s organizations on building momentum and different partnerships advocating for women’s rights in Afghanistan have been on hold as a consequence of the pandemic. Particularly in local levels, women’s and civil society organizations working on peacebuilding modalities and on strengthening the voice of women on a national level have been paused. Along with these efforts, the capacity of these organizations to respond to the needs of their communities has plummeted.
As a result, the capability of women’s civil society organizations in Afghanistan to protect women and their rights has considerably diminished, risking the possibility of regression. In addition, they face economic, operational, social and safety challenges that will require extensive and continuous support to survive and come out the other side even stronger.
Women’s organizations are paramount for the inclusion of women’s voices and WPS agenda in the intra-Afghan peace dialogues, in order to make significant progress in creating a gender-equal Afghanistan.