Afghan women’s activism wins more seats at peace conference

UN Dispatch learned last month that just 20 of 1000 reserved seats at Afghanistan’s upcoming national peace conference had been allocated for women. According to a statement by the Afghan Women’s Information Forum, that number has been increased to 30 following pressure from activists.

Afghan Women’s Information Forum spokesperson and rights activist Nargis Nehan told UN Dispatch that education minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak announced the increased number of seats on behalf of the government during a panel discussion organized by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

“These seats are only for women from civil society,” Nehan said. “However there will be more women from the government as well as the parliament.”

On April 3, Afghan women’s rights groups released a statement calling for the full participation of women in the national conference –an event known as the peace jirga– scheduled to take place in Kabul early next month, and demanding decisions made at the gathering not violate human rights.

“Women’s participation in implementing and organizing any policy, and planning national programs and events is a must,” said the statement by 260 women from two civil society coalitions and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Other demands included a quota of 30 percent for women at the conference, and women having a meaningful say in all final decisions.

The exclusion of Afghan women from important diplomatic delegations and talks between the Afghan government and representatives of the insurgency has angered civil society activists in recent months, but it has also encouraged unity among women’s rights groups and unprecedented advocacy efforts.

Nehan said that the steering committee of the Afghan Women’s Information Forum is holding frequent meetings with the government ahead of the peace jirga but added that “there are still challenges in terms of coordination and cooperation between the civil society and government.”