Safeguard women’s rights and participation in peacebuilding now, says Afghan activist Zarqa Yaftali to the UN Security Council

Date: Thursday, November 5, 2020

Zarqa Yaftali. Photo Courtesy Women and Children Legal Research Foundation
Zarqa Yaftali. Photo courtesy of Women and Children Legal Research Foundation

“Bullets, bombs, tyranny and torture. Children crying for food, civilians struggling to survive, women unable to walk out of their homes freely. Every day, people leave their homes knowing that they might not come back,” shared Zarqa Yaftali, renowned activist and researcher from Afghanistan, speaking at the UN Security Council recently. “When we are not under siege from bombs and landmines, we suffer from hunger, natural hazards and poverty. Every day is a war and people lose their lives. This is Afghanistan today.”

On 29 October 2020, the UN Security Council commemorated the 20th anniversary of its landmark resolution 1325, which set a new framework for women’s leadership and inclusion in all aspects of peace.

In Afghanistan, “women can now participate in political, cultural and social decision-making processes,” said Yaftali, speaking to UN Women. “The Afghanistan Constitution has enshrined gender equality. Women occupy positions in the national and provincial councils, as well as in the national assembly and courts.”

She attributes these changes to the efforts of Afghan women in advocating for their rights over the past two decades. “Women’s increasing participation in public and political life has countered harmful social norms and expectations around our roles in society. Afghan women are gaining respect and recognition as they begin to flourish in all walks of life, as doctors, taxi drivers and filmmakers. Women who were deprived of the most basic rights to education, employment and freedom of movement under the Taliban regime are today in a position to influence policy and shape the future of our nation,” she told the UN Security Council.

While there has been progress in increasing women’s participation in peacebuilding over the last two decades, it remains inadequate.

As historic peace talks advance between the Afghan Government and the Taliban to end 41 years of war, Yaftali is concerned about the safeguarding of women’s rights. “Our hard-won gains can be snatched away without a warning. The bitter memories of Taliban rule haunt us daily. These experiences are still a reality for many women and girls living in areas controlled by the Taliban, where freedom is severely curtailed,” she said.

Yaftali also believes the inclusion of four women in the government’s 21-member negotiation team is a great stride, but not enough.

One of those women, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, in an interview with UN Women said: “We are facing a crucial moment in our fight, both for women’s rights and a lasting peace. At the same time, we are seeing an upswing of violence against women in Afghanistan by those who understand that by attacking women you can also attack and undermine the peace process itself. Without women’s participation in this process, there will be no lasting and sustainable peace. We must not falter in our determination to keep going until we realize our vision of an Afghanistan where every woman can live in peace and recognize her rights.”

When asked how the international community could help improve the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan, Yaftali said, “promote the protection of women’s rights and our formal and direct participation in the peace talks and the subsequent state-building processes.”

“The widespread and meaningful participation of women in the peace process is essential both for peace and for the fate of Afghan women.”

Zarqa Yaftali is an Afghan activist and Executive Director of the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation, which documents violence and discrimination against women and girls. She spoke at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security.