Brussels Blog: Bridging the Gap

30 September 2016

by Samira Hamidi - Afghan Women's Network

A civil society delegate's thoughts ahead of the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan

I believe Afghanistan is at an extremely important juncture right now. After 15 years, the country has enjoyed development in terms of infrastructure, technology and telecommunications, health, education, women’s empowerment and societal and organizational changes. For example in 2001 Afghan women were considered victims, today they are called leaders and agents of change[1]

It is important to reiterate the support and contribution the Afghan government and international community have provided to the people of Afghanistan, especially to their civil society, considered one of the important pillars to development in a country. I believe that civil society has emerged as a vibrant group[2], contributing not only to support the State’s “people empowerment agenda” but also acting as watchdog to highlight the constraints and provide implementable solutions to the Afghan government and its international supporters. Afghan civil society has tried its level best to connect the dots between Kabul and provinces, bring in the people’s perspective and advocate for a safe and violence-free Afghanistan.

We are once again witnessing an international platform, the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, where the National Unity Government will present its plan of reform and improvements. Moreover the international community will announce their commitments to strengthen and support Afghanistan’s government and people. Unfortunately this is also a sensitive time where people still face extreme challenges such as unemployment, poverty, increased insecurity, immigration, threats to the civil rights of citizens specifically human rights activists and defenders[3]. While I commend the support provided to us in the past 15 years, I think Afghanistan still has a long way to go. I feel if the challenges of good governance and rule of law are not tackled systematically, the culture of impunity and practice of informal justice will continue. This increases the suffering and vulnerability of the people.  

As a woman human rights defenders, I am proud to see the improvements in the lives of Afghan women. The way I write this blog today and express myself is not what I could do 15 years back. I’ve had opportunities that have given me strength and encouraged me to raise my voice for the voiceless. However the achievements of women in Afghanistan must be kept and expanded. Women across Afghanistan still lack equal citizenship roles. They are not part of decisions and leadership in several parts of the country. Women still face severe forms of violence and discrimination in their homes, work place and society. Women told us they feel they are still not considered capable enough to be part of national processes such as peace process.

In the past 15 years Afghan civil society has not only contributed towards service delivery but also in shaping polices and strategies according to the needs of people. It has been civil society who has tirelessly advocated for human rights, including the introduction and lobby towards implementation of international human rights laws. Unfortunately there still exist armed groups, influential elders and former warlords, all with limited knowledge and agreement on human rights. Combined with the ongoing presence of insurgents, we’re seeing increased threats toward human rights defenders and activists. This is discouraging and risky when 15 years of civil society achievements remain fragile, with limited support and few proper protection mechanisms.

I will attend the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan with 9 other civil society delegates, delivering our requests and recommendations. We are committed to maintain the momentum beyond the Conference and follow up on the decisions and results made therein.

My aim in this blog is to connect with all of you, the readers: those of you who shape the policies and decisions for Afghanistan and those of you, the tax payers, who have been generous enough to support us. I would like to thank you for your willingness to still continue with us. The above mentioned challenges can be solved. We can do it jointly.

However these solutions need to be taken and implemented seriously, with the impact and effectiveness measured and monitored. Reforms in good governance and rule of law are extremely important for people to access their services, enjoy corruption-free government support and access formal justice according to the laws. The women’s empowerment agenda must remain a priority for the international community. We need women’s meaningful inclusion and participation in good governance, peace processes and decision making fora to be guaranteed. Civil society in Afghanistan must be supported and safe to continue their efforts in bridging the people and the government. A specific and funded protection mechanism can ensure a safer civil society environment.

I would like to end by saying we have come a long way - we do not want to go backwards and you all can help us in doing so.

[1] Afghan Women are More Than Victims, August 2016,

[2]  EU Roadmap for engagement with civil society in Afghanistan-

[3] Ibid 2