On Wednesday, October 25th, Women for Afghan Women (WAW) attended a United States Institute of Peace (USIP) event entitled, “Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani on Women as Peacemakers,” featuring Her Excellency Rula Ghani, Representative Susan Davis (CA-53), and USIP Senior Program Officer Palwasha Kakar, with USIP President Nancy Lindborg serving as the moderator.
Her Excellency First Lady Rula Ghani offered a hopeful, yet pragmatic message about the gains women and girls have made since 2001, embodied in a video and discussion about the May 2017 symposium in Kabul about women in the peacemaking process, but emphasized the need for much more progress to occur before women obtain the equality and value necessary for a strong social fabric, asserting, “Peace starts with the little things at home and with the family.
First Lady Ghani affirmed that cultural attitudes must shift in the minds of both men and women so that women can be the messengers and brokers of social peace, which can lead to more sustained political peace. Domestically, she called for an end to forced marriage, noting that it is often a product of poverty and dispute resolution, and frequently leads to conflict and violence against women. Her Excellency noted that economic development and opportunity will have a macro effect on the entire country, but also in the home, as marriages will then more often be a product of consent, domestic violence will be reduced, and women can expand their contribution to and influence on both the market and society.
Ms. Kakar discussed ongoing programming in Afghanistan that seeks to shift norms and cultural perceptions around women, such as the deployment of “peace curriculum” in universities, and the participation of women in provincial peace councils, community development councils, and, increasingly, in local shuras (religious councils). It is through local empowerment that women, characterized as natural “messengers of peace,” that they have successfully negotiated with the Taliban, for instance, to remove checkpoints so that their families could tend crops and pursue economic opportunity.
Congresswoman Davis, a longtime champion of the rights of Afghan women and girls, applauded the progress they have made. She also commended the symposium, which she described as a necessary capacity-building exercise to help learn how to exert influence in society and the peacebuilding process. Davis also stressed the emerging research that demonstrates that women are key to long-term stability, and must be part of peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peace-sustaining processes, providing, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Representative Davis also shared the progress Afghan women and girls have made that she witnessed first-hand in her trips to Afghanistan over the past decade, which she has articulated to members of the United States’ security apparatus and fellow members of Congress in urging their continued support. She closed by reaffirming American support for the equality and continued success of Afghan women and girls, simply stating, “We are behind you.”
When asked what sustains her in light of conflict and entrenched women’s inequality, First Lady Ghani expressed solace in the strides already made and her hope in what could be a strong, unified society of peace and prosperity. Her Excellency concluded the event by urging everyone to look at the road ahead, not the obstacles encountered, and to keep sight of the destination—one where women’s rights are fully realized.