Women and Peace Building in Afghanistan: Building local and national-level peace with the meaningful participation of women

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Conflict has destroyed countless lives in Afghanistan. Searching for an elusive peace is a focus for many
  OXFAM CASE STUDY SEPTEMBER 2016 www.oxfam.org  Colonel Samsoor is the commander of Police District 9 and has been a police officer for 31 years. Freba works in the police station in District 9 in Kabul. Photo: Ellie Kealey/Oxfam WOMEN AND PEACE BUILDING IN AFGHANISTAN Building local and national-level peace with the meaningful participation of women Conflict has destroyed countless lives in Afghanistan. Searching for an elusive peace is a focus for many; but women have often been left with no voice, with the result that a fair and equitable end to conflict remains out of reach. Within and Without the State is working with women to support their meaningful participation in local and national-level peace building.  2 CONTEXT  Afghanistan has suffered decades of violent conflict. Despite billions of dollars in development aid since the US- led intervention started in 2001, Afghanistan’s institutions remain fragile, governance and the rule of law are weak, basic services are lacking for the majority of the population, and the country’s future remains uncertain.  At least a part of the problem has been that many development interventions have not understood the deeply rooted local power dynamics. Models of governance and theories of change exported from international experience have had little traction because they have not reflected the reality or complexity of the  Afghan context. Starting in 2011, Oxfam’s ‘Within and Without the State’ (WWS) project has explored an approach to governance work in Afghanistan that is more firmly rooted in local power dynamics and cultural norms. Women’s rights and peace  building in Afghanistan Since 2001, the government and the international community have been actively engaged in promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan. To date, the national peace council has only nine female members (out of 70) . Oxfam’s research has demonstrated that women play only a small role in peace building and reconciliation in the public sphere and, and at a community level, women are usually only involved in settling disputes in the private sphere. 1  Women often lack access to legal recourse because of prejudice, weak law enforcement, and corruption. The use of unofficial, traditional, religious, and tribal  justice systems to settle disputes involving women is common. In some instances, a rape victim may find herself in court accused and condemned to death by stoning for immoral behaviour, and girls are sometimes given away in marriage in a practice known as Ba’ad   to settle disputes between communities.  Attempts to negotiate a peace agreement between the government and opposition groups, and involving regional and international stakeholders, are ongoing. The peace process involves both formal and informal political mechanisms and structures such as the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP), the High Peace Council (HPC), and local-level initiatives that are tackling grievances affecting peace and stability at the community level. However, women, youth, and other marginalized groups find themselves excluded from peace processes at all levels, not just national, which means that their interests are not being adequately represented, which undermines the chances of the process being successful. WWS in Afghanistan has been seeking to address this. WITHIN AND WITHOUT THE STATE Within and Without the State (WWS) is a five-year global initiative (2011  – 2016) funded by DfID's Conflict, Humanitarian and Security programme. It has enabled Oxfam to pilot a variety of approaches to working with civil society to promote more accountable governance in conflict-affected and fragile contexts.   3 PHASE I Phase I of WWS in Afghanistan recognized peace processes as a unique opportunity to strengthen the voice and rights of poor and marginalized groups in society. For this to happen, such groups need representation and effective organizations able to engage with those in power. Phase I focused on: ã  Building the capacity of civil society actors and organizations to work together to engage positively with power-holders at different levels of governance; ã  Building the capacity and confidence of individual women and youth; ã  Facilitating opportunities  –  at national, provincial, and community levels  –  for civil society, particularly marginalized groups such as women and youth, to engage with power-holders involved in the formal peace process and in conflict mediation at community level. It did this primarily through supporting community- level ‘women peace promoters’ (WPP) to participate in local conflict resolution mechanisms; and providing strategic and financial support to the Afghan Civil Society Organisation Network for Peace (ACSONP) at the national level. PHASE II  After the end of phase I, a macro-level conflict analysis workshop was held in Kabul in November 2014 with civil society organizations, research institutes and Oxfam staff. This was held at an interesting time in the country’s history as the National Unity Government (NUG) had recently been sworn in, representing a somewhat fragile alliance of the two main Presidential candidates who had been in opposition, bringing an end to the long drawn out and highly contested election process of 2014. The conflict analysis noted that work on gender seems to have been misrepresented/misinterpreted as a conflict between men and women; that civil society in Afghanistan lacks many channels of influence with the people and groups identified as having real power and influence (especially at local level); and that ‘traditional’ or non -constituted civil society is often squeezed out by a focus on more formally recognized civil society organizations, despite having unique reserves of legitimacy and local influence. Given all the insights from phase I, WWS phase II at the local level broadened the concept of women peace promoters at the local level to ‘community peace promoters ’ (CPPs) to better encapsulate the reality of needing to work with a cross-section of community members and engage in much more thorough power analysis as part of programme activities.  At the national level, the project was reshaped in the light of the new NUG and sought to support better power analysis of the new stakeholders engaged in the national-level peace process and to explore entry points for civil society influence. Phase II focussed on three main objectives: ã  Women and youth at the local level in Kunduz are empowered and equipped with knowledge, capacity and confidence to engage effectively with a range of local power holders including those who may otherwise block their  4 participation and linked constructively with provincial peace committees and any provincial and national peace processes; ã  The Afghan Civil Society Network for Peace (ACSONP) members at the national level are able to effectively engage with formal and informal institutions and positively influence and support peace building efforts and Community Peace Promoters; ã  Learning and insights from WWS are captured and actively disseminated for use by other Oxfam projects and external agencies. BUILDING LOCAL-LEVEL PEACE WITH THE  ACTIVE INVOLVEMENT OF WOMEN During the first phase of WWS, there was an emphasis on working through the ulema  (religious leaders) in order to engage in community-level peace building. WWS established contact between ulema  and women peace activists, opening an enabling environment for women to interact with ulema  who have legitimacy to shape public opinions and change the attitudes and perceptions of community elders to accept women’s social participation. The violation of women’s rights, community conflicts and retributive justice were all highlighted as issues the programme needed to focus on. The second phase of WWS began in 2014, this time focusing solely on Kunduz province. The Empowerment Centre for Women (ECW) The Empowerment Centre for Women is a grassroots organization in  Afghanistan, established with the aim of supporting and providing resources to  Afghan women and girls to help them to become empowered, economically independent and socially active. The ECW vision is to empower Afghan women, with a mission to support the expansion of assets and capabilities of Afghan women to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives Gender and Conflict Sensitive Power Analysis Before the second phase of community-level work began, ECW conducted a Gender and Con flict Sensitive Power Analysis to measure women’s participation and role in the power and conflict dynamics of Kunduz province. The analysis mapped actors’ perception of gender issues, their understanding of women’s role in peace building and the conflict resolution process at different levels (e.g. family, village, society, district and provincial). They also analyzed the gender role within the traditional conflict resolution mechanisms in the nine communities of Kunduz. This showed that existing tribal, cultural and ethnic enmities are compounded by discrimination against women. On reflection of the phase of WWS, it was decided by the project team that a more gender-sensitive lens had to be employed when viewing local conflicts. As a result, ECW has focused on training and coordination meetings with CPPs to support them in engaging with local power holders.
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