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Preserving the Political, Economic and Security Gains in Afghanistan Through Women’s Empowerment

The destabilizing chain of events that continue to seep across Afghanistan has ceaselessly fielded new challenges to key political and military actors involved in America’s longest war.

Nearly 18 years of bloody conflict have demanded intricate political maneuverability as ceasefires repeatedly fail, the Taliban maintain strategic territory covering 60 percent of the country and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province, also known as ISIS-K (which operates in several eastern Afghan provinces) compete for territory.

The enflamed humanitarian crisis continues to overshadow any peaceful progress that is made. From the onset, opportunities for women and youth to play a meaningful role in their country’s future and peace negotiations remains bleak— but there is hope.

In particular, Afghans’ hunger for peace is at an all-time high with nearly half of the 2,500 candidates who ran in October’s parliamentary election were under the age of 40— an unprecedented statistic that challenges the status quo of Afghanistan’s beleaguered government. Over 400 of those who ran were women— another record. The emergence of a young and eager generation is a glimmer of hope at a time of depleted resources and widespread militancy and terrorism.

Understanding this, The Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) at the International Republican Institute (IRI) has continued to capitalize on the momentum that young leaders, particularly women, are fueling in Afghanistan by supporting these movements. With tailored programming designed to help increase women’s participation in peacebuilding and transitional political processes, WDN utilizes the first resolution on Women, Peace and Security, Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR1325) as a framework to build upon strategies that address the challenges of women’s inclusion in the peace process.

Since 2012, WDN has supported local partners in Kabul to assesses the implementation process of the UNSCR1325 in Afghanistan’s National Action Plan (NAP). WDN partners work to address and facilitate opportunities for the meaningful inclusion of women in Track One (“official”) negotiations conducted by official representatives of a state, such as heads of state and government representatives; and Track Two (“unofficial”) negotiations between nonstate actors, civil society members, academics and political activists.

Most recently, WDN supported a project aimed to evaluate the NAPs progress, identify existing bottlenecks preventing the full implementation of the resolution and formulate policy recommendations based on grassroots-level expertise and experiences gathered from a wide range of stakeholders and government officials. Additionally, WDN supported cross-border collaborations via the Pakistan-Afghanistan Women’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PAWFPD).

This collaboration seeks to enhance efforts to reduce the individual, institutional and socio-cultural barriers that inhibit women from participating in peacebuilding and transitional political processes as well as increase the substantive participation of women in these platforms so that their voices are heard and included in the development and transition of their countries political process.

When women participate in their countries peace and negotiations process, statistics have shown that they critically affect sustainability, with 64 percent of agreements being less likely to fail if women are at the negotiating table. Additionally, agreements such as ceasefires are 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years if women participate in their negotiation.

Utilizing this data as a backdrop, last year’s collaboration brought together several women police officers from Pakistan and women leaders from the security and counter-terrorism sector in Afghanistan— including Afghanistan’s first female Brigadier General, Khatool Mohammadzai.

Together, representatives from each country shared and refined strategies to hone policy recommendations related to the ongoing peace negotiations. Strategies included setting criteria for selecting women negotiators and identifying women who have experience in dispute resolution at the community level.

While Afghan women have made monumental strides forward— their gains are more at risk than ever before. With one trillion U.S. taxpayer dollars spent and nearly 2,400 American troops lost, the United States has a vital interest in preserving the many political, economic and security gains that have been achieved in Afghanistan over the course of the last 18 years. It is now more essential than ever, to ensure women’s representation and participation at all levels of Afghanistan’s political transition to achieve sustainable conflict resolution.