Women are key to building peace in Afghanistan

 

My journey in working for peace started as a college student -- at the time of the second largest wave of Afghan refugee influx to Pakistan, post 9/11. Many other young Afghans (including me), who already lived as refugees in Pakistan stepped forward to support other Afghans, who were affected by war and now living in extremely vulnerable and volatile situation on the Pak-Afghan border. Witnessing these displaced Afghans suffering exploitation and violence, my core area of work became working for peaceful co-existence.

Afghan women have been the witnesses, victims as well as actors of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. I was born in a conflict situation and raised as a refugee, where in my young age I saw suffering and misery. Women and children in particular have been the prime victims, those who escaped war to save their lives and those who stayed behind and lost their dear ones, all faced hardships and often loss of their dignity.

Every society approaches issues of violence, security and peace in distinctive ways, particularly traditional communities practicing unique approaches not widely known or accessible to the outside world. This means that peace building is not a universal concept that can be applied uniformly in disparate contexts. In the case of Afghanistan there have been various shifts in approaching matters of peace.

Women's agency inside the country and outside has proven that women are not only victims but can also serve as peace facilitators and bridge builders. Networking, identifying allies within competing groups and steady but sustainable efforts for change are some practices I have seen women use, even in the toughest of circumstances.

My work with grassroots communities has enabled me to acquire evidence that, historically women have been involved in resolving various types of conflicts within families and communities, leading to wider harmony. Most of these practices have now vanished due to the continuous disruptions within communities by the on-going politically volatile situation in the country. However, women are gaining new experiences and learning new methods of participation in peace and reconciliation. These include shuttle diplomacy, bridge building and recognizing and reviving cultural practices. Women who were actors in war against perceived injustices have become agents for peace.

The international community has specified 2014 as the beginning of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Both Afghans and the international community view the inclusion of women as crucial for the success of the on-going peace process. Durable peace in Afghanistan necessitates the participation of women. Women have been and will be affected by the peace deal with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Women's socio-political roles at present will also largely affect the peace building process. It is important that we understand the connections between women's identities, priorities and contributions in facilitating conflict resolution, reintegration, reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the United Nations Development Programme (the N-Peace initiative), to promote the leadership that women demonstrate in resolving conflicts and building peace. Learn more about N-Peace.