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Afghan Peace Process: Where Are The Women?

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The highest level of negotiations till date were conducted recently between American diplomats and representatives of Taliban in Qatar, and a wave of optimism emerged. Many saw it as a move towards ending the long and complex conflict which has affected every aspect of the Afghan society and polity. But one thing stood out during the negotiations and that was the absence of women.

The absence soon drew criticism. The country’s leading women’s rights group, the Afghan Women’s Network, released a strongly-worded statement calling for “the full, equal and meaningful participation of women” in the negotiations. In another initiative led by Time4RealPeace, a civil society initiative of Afghan women and youth has aimed to raise awareness about the lack of female involvement in the peace process. As one of its campaigns, it invited prominent writers and activists from across the world, including Arundhati Roy and Margaret Atwood, to pen an open letter in order to highlight the exclusion of Afghan women’s voices in the ongoing peace process. The open letter published in the Guardian, strongly stated that “we, the women of Afghanistan, will not go backwards”.

One thing stood out during the US-Taliban peace negotiations, and that was the absence of women. Getty Images

When the coalition arrived in Afghanistan in 2001, it was on the back of promises made to Afghan women and future generations. We have been fighting for our rights and representation ever since. We welcome all steps to bring peace to our country, but history has taught us the bloody lesson that you cannot have peace without inclusion.

Women, Peace and Security

Feminist scholars across the world have argued that men and women experience conflict differently, and any attempts to arrive at peace must take into account their differing experiences, needs and priorities. They have also highlighted that the image of women as mere victims of a conflict must be challenged, and the immense potential that they hold as agents of peace and reconciliation must be acknowledged. The passage of the UNSC Resolution 1325 in 2000 was a landmark achievement in the field of women, peace and security. It not only highlighted the fact women’s experiences of conflict differs from that of men, but also accorded them an important place in initiatives for peace-building.

Bell and O’Rourke (2010) have observed that women’s inclusion in peace agreement texts is “an important starting point in achieving other political, legal and social gains for women”. They suggest references to women can be significant at the stage of “ceasefire and pre-negotiation agreements; framework agreements which set out the arrangements for substantively settling the conflict; and implementation agreements that address implementation of the framework agreement”. Further, in line with the UNSC Resolution 1325, seventy-nine countries, including Afghanistan, have devised National Action Plans to guide the resolution’s implementation. As for the United States, in October 2017, it became the first country in the world to pass a Women, Peace and Security Act, signed off by President Trump himself. It was passed explicitly to “ensure that the United States promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict” across the world.”

Thus both parties at the table, and the whole of international community, must push for greater meaningful participation of women in the Afghan peace process.

War And Women In Afghanistan

The long-drawn conflict in Afghanistan has had immense consequences for the lives of women in the country. But it was the Taliban rule (1996-2001) which turned daily life into a nightmare for the Afghan women. In accordance with their strict understanding of the Sharia law, the Taliban restricted women’s access to education, made it mandatory for them to step out with a male guardian, and termed simple things like painting of nails as a crime punishable through lashing. However, several women organisations such as the Afghan Women’s Network and the Revolutionary Association of the Afghan Women continued to fight for their rights and assert their agency in the political future of the country.

As a result of their efforts, the end of the Taliban rule in 2001 brought lofty promises from both the United States and the Afghan government regarding the protection and promotion of women’s rights. The 2004 constitution of the country explicitly mentioned that “the citizens of Afghanistan–whether man or woman–have equal rights and duties before the law.”

It is now time that both the Afghan government and the United States live up to their promises. The women of the country are a major stakeholder in its future, and hold the key to sustainable peace. Marginalising them in the peace process will be a major setback, as will seeing them as mere victims. Any meaningful step for Afghanistan’s future must therefore listen to what its women have to say, and listen to them very closely.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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