South Asia

‘Women’s role in peacemaking vital’

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Activists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India share a platform

As the Afghanistan elections approach, Leeda Yaqoobi has a tough task on hand. Her Afghan Women’s Network has been trying to mobilise women in 28 provinces to register for voting. “Most of them say what’s the point, anyway it’s a political deal,” she says. But she managed to mobilise at least 1000 women voters in most districts but there was little success in some.

Women’s votes are vital; all candidates have prepared a proper plan for women, says Ms. Yaqoobi. The AWN also has programmes to which they invite candidates and have debates. The next debate before the elections in will be televised.

Ms Yaqoobi and Mahbouba Seraf of AWN were here to attend a Regional Women’s Peace Conference organized by the Paiman Alumni Trust. Women from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan discussed ways of bringing women to the forefront of regional dialogues and ensuring that their voices were heard in crucial decision-making processes. Afghanistan occupies a central place in any discussion on peace and changes there could impact the whole region.

Afghanistan’s future was a cause for concern, said Ms. Seraf. The situation was grim and the country was on the verge of war. She said the 11 candidates standing for elections had agendas of their own but it was important to take part in the election process. The election was crucial as it should take forward the gains of the last 12 years. There are worries too that the election process may not be inclusive.

Khawar Mumtaz, activist and head of the National Commission on the Status of Women in Pakistan, said women had no role in a conflict but they always bore the brunt. Nighat Saeed Khan of the ASR Resource Centre, Lahore, said women were meant to only clean up the mess. Since Afghanistan had recently become part of SAARC, the issues from there were not included in the narrative of South Asia.

She said women’s groups in Pakistan were against the military role of supporting the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Even after so many peace initiatives in the region for 35 years, women’s agenda did not occupy a place in peace movements or discussions, she pointed out. “Unless we have ownership and internalisation of the need for women’s participation, things will not change.” On Kashmir, she said she has not been able to convince men that women needed to be on peace committees. Society was patriarchal and that’s where the challenge lay.

Ms. Seraj said the role of women as peacemakers was very important in a patriarchal society. “If you want to make a change you need to come from a place of power. In Afghanistan, women have to stand behind men,” she pointed out. Unless there is a paradigm shift in the peace processes in the world, there may not be a world to talk about, she remarked.

It was important to include men also in this process, argued Sangeeta Thapliyal from India. “You can't isolate men and you have to bring them on board when you talk of mainstreaming women’s agenda,” she said. Manjari of Women in Security Conflict Management and Peace spoke of her work in the area of trust building and dealing with prejudices, specially at a young age. The need for women’s involvement in political processes was also felt by people’s representatives from Afghanistan. Participants called for building on peace initiatives of the past and working to involve more women in decision-making roles in the region.

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Printable version | May 23, 2017 6:57:47 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/womens-role-in-peacemaking-vital/article5737248.ece