Afghan Women’s Exclusion from the Chicago NATO Summit a Troubling Sign

   •    May 29, 2012

A woman stands in a field holding a kite

A woman holds a kite printed with “demand Afghan women’s rights” in Chicago earlier this month, where Amnesty International hosted a summit alongside the Chicago NATO Summit to urge world leaders to increase women’s participation in peace negotiations and the security transition. (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International)

Earlier this month at the 2012 Chicago NATO Summit, the Afghan government’s delegation included only one Afghan woman, a member of President Hamid Karzai’s official entourage. Contrast this to the 2011 Bonn Conference where women made up almost a quarter of the Afghan government’s delegation and several participated in a civil society forum tied to the conference.

With women shut out of the security talks in Chicago, Amnesty International put on a shadow summit the first day of the NATO Summit to highlight the lack of attention given to women’s inclusion in the future of Afghanistan. Their summit featured Afghan women leaders discussing their perspectives on peace and transition. In addition to the four Afghans, a veritable “who’s who” slate of longtime women’s champions, including Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) attended the summit.

As dignitaries were wrapping up their discussions on the lakefront, Josh Rogin, who walks the Foggy Bottom beat for The Cable blog at Foreign Policy, posted an overview of Amnesty’s summit. In his piece, he highlighted an Amnesty-organized open letter to President Obama signed by former US officials and celebrities (including Sting, a music legend and personal hero of mine). The letter called on the president to ensure that the on-again, off-again reconciliation talks are “inclusive and reflective of Afghan civil society, including… women… and [involves them] in both the planning stages and the talks themselves.”

What Josh and others may not have heard about is the impressive organizing work done leading up to the summit by the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), which represents 85 women’s organizations across Afghanistan. They have worked to elevate women’s solutions at every major decision-making fora where peace and security issues have been on the agenda, from the June 2010 National Consultative Jirga in Kabul to the last year’s diplomatic gathering in Bonn.

In the run up to Chicago, AWN consulted with more than 300 women leaders in eight provincial centers to develop a position paper on the transition’s impact on women [PDF].

A majority expressed that they have not meaningfully participated in planning for the security transition. In the provinces where transition has yet to start, women do not believe they will be involved in determining the plans, steps, and activities associated with the transfer of security authority. The consultations also revealed that women feel the Afghan National Security Forces are not responsive to women’s needs and do not uphold human rights standards. The solutions proposed by AWN build upon and supplement the recommendations developed by Afghan women who have advocate for their inclusion in peace and security processes over many years.

Another promising sign from the summit weekend is US lawmakers’ increasing willingness to call a spade a spade and point out the transition’s failure to engage women in the planning and implementation of security arrangements or account for their protection.

What’s particularly striking is it’s not just the usual suspects who are sounding the alarm—and that calls for Afghan women’s inclusion and protection in peace talks and the transition are coming from both sides of the aisle and the Capitol.

While the Afghan Women’s Task Force, co-chaired by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Donna Edwards (D-MD), was the driving force behind the House’s letter [PDF] to President Obama, 10 of the 28 signatories were men, including Russ Carnahan (D-MO), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. What’s more, some of the Republican caucus’ more conservative members, such as Jean Schmidt (R-OH), also a member of Foreign Affairs, endorsed the letter’s call for meaningful action to prevent any backsliding on “the protections and improvements made over the last decade to support women’s inclusion and security.”

From Congress’ senior chamber, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the powerful chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, called for a “responsible transition” in which the security of Afghan women is viewed as “a critical indicator of the transition’s success.” Ten senators representing the political spectrum—and, importantly, influential committees on intelligence, foreign relations, armed services, and homeland security—joined Sen. Casey, whose  letter [PDF] was addressed to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Recently, I said members of the US Congress would look to the NATO summit’s final declaration for a hint that NATO member countries would support a more responsible, inclusive transition going forward. While the Chicago declaration reaffirms the international commitment to an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” reconciliation effort that protects women’s rights, it’s hard to take the rhetoric seriously when so many Afghan voices, especially women’s, were kept far from the summit.

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