On June 2, 2017, following a week of suicide bombs, civilian deaths and protest, peace talks began in Kabul with a renewed urgency. However, despite this push for peace, it soon became clear that, once again, women had been left out of the peace negotiation process. A dispatch from Human Rights Watch notes that in the “family photo” of the 47 Afghan and foreign participants, only two Afghan women were present.
Afghan women continue to be largely absent from these talks, called the Kabul Process, despite having “died beside men in the bombing, and marched beside men in the protest,” wrote the Human Rights Watch.
The lack of women at the meeting was particularly noticeable due to the government’s promise to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for “women’s equal participation in issues surrounding peace and security.”
Not an isolated incident
The Kabul Process is not the first time that women have been excluded from peace processes. Worldwide, only nine percent of negotiators during peace talks are women, according to a report by UN Women.
These numbers remain low because, while states may sign treaties or create laws encouraging gender equality, there is little substantive change in practice, as was recently witnessed in Afghanistan. Often, religious or traditional gender roles cannot be changed merely by laws. In order for true change to come, the hearts and minds of religious leaders must first be won over.
Studies have shown that women are frequently viewed as victims of violence, but rarely as agents of change. This is largely due to the fact that women are routinely subjected to sexual violence, marginalization and poverty, especially during times of conflict. A truly significant increase in women’s role in the peace process is only possible if the public can view women in conflict zones as more than voiceless victims.
Human rights defenders must work to change the narrative that women are helpless against violence and instead persuade the public to support giving women a voice in conflict resolution. Otherwise, as the United Nations notes, there is risk of perpetuating a never-ending cycle as “formal security institutions charged with women’s protection, namely the military, civilian police and even peacekeepers, are sometimes among the perpetrators of violence against them.”
Hope for the future
Although the struggle to create more inclusive peace talks continues, studies have shown that, when women are present, resulting agreements are more long-lasting.
A report by UN Women found a 20 percent increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least two years, and a 35 percent increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years when women are included in peace processes.
These numbers indicate that by supporting women’s involvement in peace processes, human rights defenders and governments are ensuring greater chances of sustainable peace and equity for all.