Afghanistan: Investing in a peaceful future

Women in Afghanistan know how much is at stake for them in the peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. If negotiations fail, they above all risk losing hard-won rights. The women must be able to demand their rights and have their say. A course at Gawharshad University in Kabul empowers them to do so.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, women have been those hardest hit by political instability, socio-economic crises and violent conflict. They fear that they will again lose their rights and be excluded from society if the peace negotiations fail. There are only four women (with 42 men) at the negotiating table.

"Women need more opportunities to participate in peace negotiations," says Khatira Khorrami, coordinator for PeaceWomen Across the Globe in Afghanistan. For this to happen, she says, they need to know about the rights they are entitled to, as well as possess the negotiation skills to pave their way to a peaceful and gender-equitable Afghanistan. In a country where female literacy is barely 30%, this is no small undertaking. Even those women who are literate are usually not in a position to state their demands clearly in order to avoid exclusion.

The “Gender and Peace” course at Gawharshad University in Kabul, which we designed together, helps to build the confidence and capacity of women in Afghanistan, giving them a voice in landmark events, says Khatira. It is an investment in the younger generation, young women who, with a heightened awareness, organise campaigns for women's participation.

Since it was founded in 2010 by the well-known human rights defender Sima Samar, our partner organisation Gawharshad has been contributing to positive change in Afghan society and empowering women with its peace policy and feminist courses. Compared to other Afghan universities, the proportion of women among the students there is high, at more than one third.

After an intensive course on "Women and Peacebuilding" in 2020, in March this year 40 participants addressed the "Role of Women and their Inclusion in the On-going Peace Talks". Eight men participated in the course to facilitate dialogue and mutual understanding between women and men. Like the women participants, the men at the course also increased their knowledge about the different forms of violence and conflict and learned approaches to conflict resolution that they can use in their private lives too. Throughout the course, the role of women in society and their rights remained at the core.

All participants learned how to talk to their families about what they had learned and how to disseminate their knowledge via social media. In this way, the 120 graduates of both courses become important multipliers. As one student said, "I thought that leaders are born, but through this seminar I discovered that anyone who looks for change is a leader. Now I feel I am a leader and I can advocate for women's engagement in the peace talks."