In Afghanistan, many women help resolve conflicts and promote peace on a grassroots level. However, only a few women have held peacebuilding roles at a national level. Quhramaana Kakar is one of them.
The 34-year-old served as gender adviser to the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) from 2010 to 2012. Her role was to ensure that women’s interests were considered in the work of the High Peace Council, a body established by former Afghan president Hamid Karzai to broker peace with the Taliban.
Since then, she has continued her peacebuilding work through her nonprofit Women for Peace and Participation. The organization works with women and youth both in Afghanistan and in the diaspora, with the goal of including their voices in policy discussions at the international level.
Women & Girls spoke to Kakar, who is currently based in London, about Afghan women who work in peacebuilding and the significant challenges they face in gaining seats at the table.
Women & Girls: How have Afghan women contributed to conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and how has their role changed over time?
Women in Afghanistan have culturally had a role in conflict resolution. They resolve any conflict that arises in the family. The older the woman gets, the more respect she earns. Historically, in the Pashtunwali culture [the culture of Pashtun tribes], which is the dominant culture, women would resolve tribal conflicts. Similarly, women in Islam are granted a high position: every Muslim is required to respect their mothers, daughters and sisters.
Hence, these cultural and religious beliefs have allowed women’s influence to stop conflicts between families and tribes. Their role has certainly changed and evolved over time — with their education and economic development — from a more submissive role to a more assertive role.
Afghan women became part of a formal peace process in 2010, when the very first peacebuilding program was initiated, the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP).
This was a revolutionary change for women’s role in peacebuilding. At the time, I was leading gender policy for the APRP to help ensure that Afghan women were not only engaged in the peace process via the High Peace Council, but also at the sectoral institutions like the ministries and, most importantly, at the Provincial Peace Councils.
In 2011, we began lobbying to bring women into the Provincial Peace Councils, but we got a big “no” from the government. The government’s alibi was that the Taliban would not negotiate if we involved women in the peace process. And, of course, there were men who tried to discourage women from entering the peace councils due to their traditional beliefs that women should not be out in the public sphere alongside men.
Today, we have five women in the Provincial Peace Councils and a number of women as advisers in the High Peace Council. A historical milestone was reached when a group of women attended an informal face-to-face meeting with the Taliban in Norway in 2015.
Women & Girls: Do women in these roles have a real impact on conflict resolution and peacebuilding?
Women are the ones who suffered the most during the war with the Taliban; they are the ones whose rights are denied. So their presence was a must in the peace process — men can’t represent them as well as they can represent themselves.
We have had women who have negotiated directly with the Taliban. One female member of the High Peace Council was approached directly by mid-level commanders. Women have never fought the Taliban with weapons, so they feel safer negotiating with them.
Afghan women have also often played the role of mediators when there are conflicts within the Peace Councils. Members of these councils come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, so it’s always a challenge to bring them all together and to agree on any one point.
Women & Girls: What are the challenges and opportunities for women to enter the peacebuilding process?
One major challenge is the lack of belief in women’s capabilities on the part of the government and the international community. Women are still left behind in some of the most important peace processes. For instance, during the meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-US-China Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) in January 2016, which was meant to revive the peace process between the government and the Taliban, women had no role.
Another big challenge for women is the lack of cohesion and a clear framework for participation. It can be challenging to get women to see an interest in participating and to encourage them to step outside their norm.
The peace process in Afghanistan has changed considerably when compared to its early stages. Six years ago, the peace process focused primarily on the political aspects and there was not much talk about economic development. Today, economic aspects are involved as well, which creates more opportunities for women.
Women & Girls: How much has the international community supported the involvement of women in the peacebuilding process? How effective has it been?
The international community has been trying, in many ways, to support Afghan women in the peace process. They have given funds to organizations, institutions, the High Peace Council and the government to increase women’s participation in the peace process. They even put political pressure on the government to include women.
This has been most effective for women in the major cities. The solutions provided by the international community do not work for women outside of the capital and other major cities, because their context is different — they are not as educated and open-minded.
Many people believe that mechanisms for mainstreaming gender are a Western imposition; it is often understood as empowering women against their male counterparts. So there is a need for a contextualized implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 [the landmark resolution that called for the adoption of a gender perspective in peacekeeping] so that it supports women from all backgrounds and areas.