The Latest Country to Adopt a Women, Peace, and Security Policy May Surprise You

   •    November 19, 2014

In Kabul last month, Afghan government officials sign a new policy to advance women’s inclusion in peacebuilding.

As international troops end their decade-plus engagement in Afghanistan, the country’s government has taken a decisive step toward lasting security for its people. Last month, 21 deputy ministers and agency heads approved a new national action plan (NAP) to engage both women and men in sustaining a peaceful transition.

Recognizing the Role of Afghan Women

The NAP demonstrates Afghanistan’s commitment to elevating women as full partners in creating a stable future for the country. For example, the plan calls for increased recruitment of female police officers, who can play a key role in countering violent extremism—and who currently account for only one percent of the force.

This week’s suicide attack that wounded leading female Member of Parliament Shukria Barakzai—a member of our Network—underscores why this is so important. The insurgent wore a burqa. Only female police officers can perform searches of women (or those disguised as women). Similarly, the plan outlines an ambitious goal of ten percent women’s representation in the Afghan National Army in four years, which would be the highest level of any majority-Muslim country.

The NAP also pledges meaningful inclusion of women in negotiations with the Taliban, where they will safeguard the rights Afghan women have worked so hard to gain in the last decade. It suggests specific actions to strengthen the mediation and negotiations role women have played, particularly as members of the Provincial Peace Councils.

Over the last couple of years, scores of women have directly engaged with various insurgent groups to facilitate reintegration and reconciliation processes. On several occasions, women have even been able to negotiate the release of hostages by first building bridges to the “wives of the Talibs.” The NAP will strengthen women’s roles in grievance resolution and more efficiently support their mediation efforts. Such local initiatives will bolster the new phase of the country’s peace process.

Inclusive Security’s Vice Chair, Miki Jacevic (front, fourth from left), and members of the working group that wrote Afghanistan’s national action plan, in Kabul, January 2012. Many of the group members gathered again last month to celebrate the adoption of the NAP.

Working Together for the Future

Over the last three years, the Institute for Inclusive Security partnered with the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Finland in Kabul to build the skills and knowledge of the working group that wrote the NAP. At the very first meeting in January 2012 (in a Ministry conference room that was freezing due to regular electricity blackouts), when I asked who had heard of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls on countries to adopt NAPs, only one participant raised her hand.

During subsequent workshops, these men and women—civil servants in a country where the government is often perceived as corrupt or incapable—demonstrated immense dedication to developing a high-impact policy that will serve all Afghans. They learned how inclusion makes peace more sustainable and developed core skills in strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, and critical thinking. The result is a document—and an implementation structure—that has the potential to reshape the country for years and decades to come.

Importantly, the plan was developed with leading civil society institutions and provides a blueprint for continued collaboration between these actors and the government. Our local partner, the Afghan Women’s Network, not only helped draft the plan, but also facilitated seven provincial consultations that generated feedback from thousands of women across the country. To my knowledge, no other country has developed a NAP with such significant buy-in from those whose lives the plan will impact most directly.

The Afghan NAP is an example of collaborative and effective creation of public policy. Even in more stable environments, it is rare for 21 government institutions to cooperate with each other to develop specific actions on a security policy—and even rarer that such a process involves civil society representatives.

A group of Afghan women detail their strategy for creating an inclusive peace process at the latest in a series of workshops conducted with our local partner, the Afghan Women’s Network. The national action plan will ensure that women like this are included in negotiations with the Taliban.

A Policy with Real Impact

Critically, these actors have not waited for the NAP to be formally announced; over the last two years, they have taken concrete steps to advance a more inclusive approach to stabilizing their country. For example, Sheila Samimi, who represents the High Peace Council on the NAP committee, initiated a nationwide campaign to increase public awareness about the Afghan Reintegration and Reconciliation Program. She and other women from the High Peace Council visited all 34 provinces to gather close to 200,000 signatures of women in support of the peace process.

Similarly, the Ministry of Interior has recruited over 2,000 new female police cadets and named two women as police chiefs. The Ministry of Defense has introduced human rights courses in their curricula, while the Ministry of Justice has established programs to train prosecutors and other criminal justice officials deal with cases of gender-based violence.

Maybe the most telling example is that of the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, which is working with mullahs across the country’s mosques to lead monthly sermons that highlight the importance of tolerance and social cohesion, including advancing women’s rights.

It’s not often that a single document can have such a far-ranging impact on peoples’ daily lives, and on the security of a whole nation. Thanks to the perseverance of our Afghan partners, especially my dear colleagues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the national action plan is one such document. In a time of uncertainty and transition, it provides a beacon of hope for Afghanistan and the world.

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