More women – more peace. Studies show that the full and equal participation of women in peacebuilding processes contributes to better and more sustainable peace and security in society. On 12-14 December,  Sweden invited women activists from all provinces in Afghanistan to participate in a training on dialogue and mediation skills in peace processes.

“The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law”, states article 22 of the Afghan constitution. Afghanistan has made a lot of progress on women’s rights over the past 15 years, and the adoption of the Afghan national action plan for UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security last year was the result of years of advocacy by women activists and support by the international community. Resolution 1325 stresses the importance of increasing women’s participation in the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict as well as in all matters related to peace and security.

In spite of progress made, however, Afghanistan of today is still a long way from achieving gender equality. Across the country, women face resistance, violence and threats within their communities when they strive to actively participate in society or be part of any process designed to end violence and conflict.

No lasting, sustainable and inclusive peace can be built without the meaningful engagement by women in the process. Women’s inclusion in society is not merely a matter of fairness and justice – it is smart politics. But empowering women requires allowing them acces to the skill sets necessary to become actors for bringing peace and security to the country.

12-14 December the Embassy of Sweden hosted the initial phase of a Dialogue and Mediation training for Afghan women, conducted by experts from the Folke Bernadotte Academy in Sweden together with Afghan facilitators. The overarching goal is to strengthen the skills and professional capacity of women peace activists to engage in conflict prevention and conflict resolution at the local, provincial and national level in Afghanistan.

 

Participation from every corner of Afghanistan

Women from every province in Afghanistan were invited to attend the training. Participants include representatives from Provincial Peace Councils (PPCs) and the Department of Women’s Affairs (DoWA), but also teachers and journalists. The criteria for selection was that participants have some previous level of experience in working for peace, strengthening civil society, or in some other way are in a position where enhanced mediation skills would make them better equipped in their daily work.  In the end, participants from an astounding 32 out of 34 provinces made it to the training’s initial phase.

The training will be conducted in three phases over the course of a year. The first three-day session focused on basic communication and active listening as well as trust building. A particular focus was put on discussing the roles of women in conflict resolution in Afghanistan as well as unpacking social, cultural and religious concepts that relate to conflict resolution.

The opening of the training was attended by Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani.

“Your role is key to end the violence in your societies. You are strong and you can bring change” said the First Lady as she addressed the participants.

“Before coming here I had almost never met women from other provinces – now I realize that women in other provinces are facing the same kind of problem that I face. I am not alone” said one participant.

“We are always dealing with the conflict in one way or another, and trying to resolve these issues we often find ourselves losing control. This course has taught us how to deal with these issues with compassion, and to listen even when we think what the other person is saying is wrong. We look forward to learning more during the next two modules” said another participant from Farah province.

The second phase of the training will be conducted in late spring 2017.

 

Text: Zuhra Sahar and Veronica Nordlund, Embassy of Sweden in Kabul