Photo: ISAF/Laura K. Smith

Why Women Are the Solution to Afghanistan’s Insecurity

   •    December 21, 2015

Women in Afghanistan—as in communities around the world—recognize the warning signs of violent conflict. Ask an Afghan woman about ISIS’ presence in the country or about the Taliban’s growing strength and she’ll cite indicators of their pervasive influence: women banned from attending school in southern provinces, the Taliban kidnappings in Parwan province to the north, or male students raising ISIS flags at Nangarhar University to the east.

Sahar (pseudonym), a Kabul-based activist, regularly connects with women in the nearby city of Ghazni, about two hours from Kabul. In both cities, women noticed an unusual increase in trucks matching the same description passing through their respective neighborhoods. Through closer monitoring and inquiries, they determined that the Taliban was using the Kabul-Ghazni highway to smuggle weapons into a nearby province. They relayed this information to local security personnel, but no action was taken. A few months later, Taliban fighters stormed a prison in Ghazni and freed over 350 prisoners. It was the country’s largest prison break since 2011.

Insurgent groups like the Taliban and ISIS depend on access to local communities to help them recruit adherents and provide a base from which to launch attacks. Lack of public trust and confidence in the country’s security forces exacerbates underlying grievances that drives some Afghans to accept or even actively support these groups.

The police and military personnel that make up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) do not have a strong enough presence across the country to adequately address local security concerns and build trust with the civilian population. These forces are stretched beyond their capabilities as they engage, often reactively, in counterterror and counterinsurgency operations in dozens of districts across nearly 45% of the country. Recent reports indicate that the number of ANSF personnel has steadily declined over the past three months.

Civil society can be a bridge between security forces and local communities. Engaging women, in particular, can build trust and close information gaps. They understand underlying resentments that can propel communities to host Taliban fighters or encourage young boys to take up arms.

This is because women tend to see beyond the traditional security lens. For women, unemployment, lack of access to education, and homelessness are all security issues. As a young woman activist put it: “You need bullets, but you also need schools and classrooms full of students.”

There are thousands of women like Sahar in Afghanistan’s vibrant but underutilized civil society, whose inclusion can bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan. In 2016, President Ghani’s government will consider creating a national strategy to curb the threat of violent extremism. A traditional military approach will not provide comprehensive solutions to Afghanistan’s insecurity.

Women’s access within communities, knowledge of local security concerns and underlying grievances, and strength of networks around the country are all vital elements to the design and implementation of any successful national strategy to counter violent extremism.

Wazhma Frogh, co-founder of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security – Afghanistan, says, “It’s not a [traditional] war, it’s an insurgency. The Afghan government and international community have focused on conventional methods of warfare at the expense of long-term solutions.” Here’s their chance to shift that approach.

Read our latest publication, “Why Women? Inclusive Security and Peaceful Societies,” to learn more about how women’s inclusion helps prevent conflict, create peace, and sustain security after war ends.

Candace Gibson is a Program Assistant at Inclusive Security, where she supports the Training and Afghanistan teams.

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