• Getting It Right Gender conference highlights ways forward for Afghan women

Getting It Right Gender conference highlights ways forward for Afghan women

01 April 2014

For 4 days last week, BAAG discussed women’s rights and gender issues with some of the most experienced experts from Afghanistan and Europe.   We have been delighted to host Dr. Soraya Sobhrang, Najla Ayubi, Belquis Ahmadi and Shaheer Shahriah in London.  Their contributions in various meetings and at our 2 day Getting it Right: Gender Programmes in Afghanistan conference have proven stimulating and invaluable. 

A busy week of activities for the visitors included a meeting with Justine Greening and Baroness Warsi (Secretary of State for the Department for International Development (DFID) and Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) respectively).  BAAG also held a more informal discussion with civil servants from DFID, FCO and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and convened a session of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Afghanistan (APPG) with a select number of British MPs.

Given the breadth of the subject, our discussions raised diverse points.  Dr. Sobhrang commented in the conference on the increase in reported cases of domestic violence recorded by her team at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission last year.  She presents this as evidence that women are more aware of their rights, feel more secure in reporting violations and have more effective mechanisms through which they can do so: ‘Women’s grievances are no longer buried in their homes’, she said. 

The issue of economic empowerment and independence for women was raised during the conference.  Participants agreed that building on education success with skills training and employment opportunities is critical.  ‘Helping women gain economic independence will support their greater independence of thought and action’, stated Najla Ayubi, and will encourage their increased involvement in community and political decision making.   Without that level of participation, women will continue to be subjugated in the family and in their public lives.  

A further theme was the role of men and boys in both women’s rights and in gender matters generally.  A number of international gender experts commented on the importance of men and boys being consulted in the design and delivery of women’s rights programmes.  Men’s acceptance of such programmes determines the ability of wives, daughters and sisters to attend them.  In addition, the issues of gender-based violence and pressures encountered by males must be considered.  Men and boys are victims of forced marriage too, along with issues including forced employment and sexual abuse.  As Najla Ayubi commented, ‘we must consider the violation of men’s rights in Afghanistan too.  If we don’t, it could fuel a backlash against women’s rights.’

What was consistently clear was that our Afghan guests are more optimistic about their country’s future than many had expected.  Following opening reflections by all four during the APPG, the chair – a British MP – commented on their positivity and enthusiasm.   There is much for Afghans and the international community to be proud of, and their momentum continues – but gains and progress could be seriously threatened by decreased funding or international support. 

BAAG are now drafting reports from these discussions, which will form the basis of recommendations for governments and civil society – keep visiting our website for updates of these and the follow-up steps BAAG will take in promoting Afghan gender programmes.