The role of Afghan women
The committee has considered the central role that civil society could
have as partners with the government in helping it build capacity and in
delivering basic services. In this context, a number of witnesses underscored
the need to recognise the role of women in capacity building. The following
chapter looks at the role of Afghan women in the reconstruction and recovery of
Status of women in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has a legal and policy framework that provides for the
protection and advancement of women. The Constitution recognises that the citizens of Afghanistan—whether male or female—have
equal rights and duties before the law.
Afghanistan is also a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all
Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); it has established a National
Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA); and passed the Elimination of
Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, which criminalised rape in 2009.
Despite these measures, international organisations involved in
development assistance have, for many years, raised concerns about
discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan evident in female
attendance at school, their low literacy rate and domestic violence against
According to a report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights
Commission, Afghanistan is 'one of the worst places in the world regarding
Women face inequalities and even discriminations in many spheres of social
life, such as education, control over resources, access to economic
opportunities and justice and, political participation. They face deprivations
relating to their right to own and control property, especially owning cash.
Due to traditional practices that isolate them, women have very limited access to
social, legal, medical, or economic protection care or advice.
Mr Krishnan informed the committee of a 2011 ActionAid survey conducted
across six provinces in Afghanistan showing that nine out of 10 women are afraid
of what is going to happen regarding their future. He maintained that if the
status of women or violence against women is a key indicator for progress, then
progress has not been achieved in Afghanistan.
CARE Australia emphasised the importance of women and girls and their
involvement in governance and accountability processes.
It was of the view that the donor community was not paying sufficient attention
to the roles of civil society, and women and girls particularly, in monitoring
and directing the flow of international resources through the Afghanistan
government and its aid programs.
Mr Leahy noted that in a country such as Afghanistan, where civil society and
nation building are of such critical importance, peace building and conflict
prevention need to be considered as factors in all programming. The role of
communities, and particularly women and girls, needed to be highlighted and
protected in those processes.
Child health checks, Uruzgan Province (image courtesy of
Australia's aid program and women
Gender has become a more visible and prominent facet of aid projects.
Indeed, the Afghanistan's National Development Strategy (ANDS) has nominated
gender equality as one of six cross-cutting issues that, if not addressed
effectively, could jeopardise the overall success of the strategy.
Australia has adopted equal access to education opportunities for girls
and boys as a key objective of Australia’s aid program.
The 'Children of Uruzgan' project exemplifies this approach. Also according to
Mr Krishnan, Australia was the first donor to announce that it was committing
money to end violence against women. He noted that such violence is a primary
area of concern, because everyone has been neglecting it for many years, and
Australia has 'shown the courage to come out' to support measures to combat
violence against women.
voter presents her registration card to polling officials.
voter secretly casts her vote—during the 20 August 2009 Afghan Presidential
and Provincial Council election.
(images courtesy of
Mr Leahy noted that one of CARE's main priorities in its
programming is the empowerment of women and girls and the protection of their
He referred to the gains made in this area through the work of CARE, with
support from the Australian Government and cited community based education and a
DIAC-funded program around the status of widows. He noted that a year after the
completion of DIAC'S program for livelihoods, 80 per cent of the people CARE
had worked with were continuing to derive an income from the skill gained
through the project.
According to Mr Leahy, the programs were focused particularly on
protecting the status of girls and women and, in his view, were an area where the
Australian Government has made a valuable contribution to the development and
stability of Afghanistan and its future success as a society.
He raised concern, however, that:
...the new aid management policy that is being developed, post
Tokyo, did not have in the first draft any guidance on gender mainstreaming. To
be more specific than that, in terms of consultation processes beyond the
national level and between ministries and those that happen at lower levels,
and the role and access of women and girls and civil society organisations to
those processes—that was not clear and we think that needs to be clear, and
monitoring the benchmarks around what that aid is trying to do.
Also in the context of representation, Ms Carol Angir, ActionAID noted
that in all discussions about development and transition, the question of where
women are in the conversation needs to be asked continually. She stated further
that it was not only about female politicians being at the table but about
taking deliberate efforts to reach out to women in the community and allowing
their voice to be heard.
She underscored the importance of ensuring that in numbers women participate in
critical political processes in Afghanistan right now, by asking:
Do we have an adequate number of women engaging in all aspects
of political decisions in relation to transition, whether we are talking about
troops pulling out of Afghanistan, about safety and security, about
transitional justice, about livelihood security or about economic policies, and
also about development of foreign policies towards Afghanistan?
Although the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission's recent
report recognised the efforts made to eliminate gender inequalities, it argued
that the current approach to gender and gender inequality was flawed. It stated
that the view in governmental and civil society institutions was quantitative
and concerned with increasing the presence of women rather than the quality of
their contribution. It stated:
Women‘s qualitative presence can strengthen their capabilities,
such as literacy and professionalism, thereby promoting their status in policy-
and decision-making processes. The existing quantitative view further weakens
women and as a result, they cannot play an effective role in eliminating gender
inequalities. This also slows down the process to eliminate gender inequalities
in the society.
Mr Krishnan also underlined the importance of genuine change in
behaviour as a measure of success as opposed to surface or shallow
improvements. He referred to increased girls' enrolment that did not match the actual
attendance at school.
Mrs Pilla agreed with the view that there was 'definitely a greater enrolment
than there is attendance'.
In this regard, Mrs Pilla observed:
One of the reasons often given for women's lack of
participation with local and provincial conflict-resolution bodies or
mechanisms is that they lack education. Not only does this lack of education
impact the way that men think about women but it also contributes to women's
own acceptance of the status quo and the lack of their confidence and capacity
Based on its field work, ActionAid's analysis and interpretation indicated
that one reason for the failure to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan
could be that the international community has been addressing violence against
women as a governance issue. Mr Krishnan stated that in Afghanistan it is not
about governance, it is 'a structural issue that is burnt right into the psyche
of everyone who is born in Afghanistan'. He explained that addressing the issue
through physical measures, such as constructing justice department buildings
and placing a couple more women in police stations will not solve the problem. He
argued that a paradigm shift was required to change the mindset of people
regarding women's rights.
Combating violence against women
At the Tokyo Conference, Australia announced that it would commit $17.7m
over three years to combat violence against women and girls in Afghanistan.
Oxfam would like the funding to focus substantially on enhancing the
implementation of the EVAW law, including 'through targeted, long-term,
programmatic support to women's rights organisations working on the ground in
Although a number of NGOs welcomed the Australian Government's
contribution to combating violence against women in Afghanistan and supporting
the women, peace and security agenda, they were calling on the Australian
Government to do more toward achieving these goals.
They made a series of recommendations including:
- provide funding for participation by Afghan women in peace
related international summits and to champion women's representation at the
High Peace Council and provisional peace councils by 2013–2014 in line with the
minimum 25 per cent quota for female parliamentarians;
- support the capacity for the ministry of women's affairs to
implement the EVAW law and for civil society organisations to monitor its
support the development and implementation of Afghanistan's
national plan on UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and
Security so that 'it is not left unfulfilled like some other plans such as the
National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan'.
Amnesty International also called on the Australian Government to
release details on the implementation of the Afghan component of the Australian
National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.
Together with Oxfam, Amnesty International raised an additional area
where they believed there was scope for concrete action to improve the status
of women. They suggested ensuring practical, high-quality training to Afghan
National Security Forces including the ANP that would include gender
sensitivity, human rights, humanitarian law, rule of law and literacy during
2013–14 and beyond.
Ms Cousins, Oxfam, informed the committee that:
While the Ministry of Interior Affairs in Afghanistan has set
a target for recruiting 5,000 women police by the end of 2014, currently there
are only 1,370 women police out of the 149,000 police officers in the Afghan
National Police. That is the same level as it was about a year ago. We are not
seeing a whole lot of progress. Policewomen face enormous challenges, including
sexual harassment, opposition from male police and community members, lack of
promotional prospects in the police and being used for menial tasks. Greater
emphasis must be placed on projects which can be ODA eligible to address these
barriers if more police are to be recruited, retained and able to do their jobs
The AFP informed the committee that its members work on gender related
issues with the ANP and 'actively encourage ANP executive to provide female ANP
members with greater levels of access to formal training and opportunities
within the organisation'. It could not, however, provide the committee with
information on the number of police women that have been mentored and trained
by the AFP in Afghanistan as the data was not available. While it indicated
that the number was small, the AFP reported that ten senior female ANP members
had completed the 'violence against women' program. With regard to improving
attitudes toward females and a greater awareness of the importance of gender
equality, the AFP noted that:
...human rights and gender issues are covered as part of the
Afghan Ministry of Interior approved Basic Patrolman's Course, Leadership
Management Course and management training for supervisors programs at the
Police Training Centre.
Finally, before AFP members are deployed to Afghanistan, they receive
pre-deployment training which includes UN certified teaching components
relating to human rights standards in an operational environment, such as
'Women, Peace and Security'. Several women have been deployed to Afghanistan.
Defence informed the committee that Australia's National Action Plan on
Women, Peace and Security was not released until March 2012. Because the ADF’s
mentoring program in Afghanistan for the ANA 4th Brigade was nearing completion
at the time, the measures laid out in the Plan were not incorporated into the
ADF's training program. Defence noted, however, that 'it would be difficult to
prioritise and implement such training in the ANA mentoring environment'.
According to Defence, there are very few women in the ANA—less than 400 out of
a uniformed strength exceeding 175,000 personnel. It has no records of ADF
units having undertaken mentoring roles involving female ANA personnel.
The committee believes that, through their training, mentoring and
advisory capacity with the ANP and ANA, there is significant opportunity for
the ADF and the AFP to generate a greater awareness of the importance of gender
equality and to encourage the recruitment to, and promotion of women in, the
Afghan military and police forces.
The committee recommends that the ADF and AFP take the
opportunity in their training, mentoring and advisory role with their Afghan
counterparts to help create an awareness of the importance of gender equality
and human rights and to encourage greater participation of Afghan women in
Afghanistan's military and police forces.
To lift its people out of poverty, Afghanistan must include women as
part of its development process, including in policy formulation and decision
making and implementation. The committee notes that Afghanistan has identified
gender equality as an important cross-cutting issue central to the success of
its overall development strategy. Evidence suggests, however, that as
Afghanistan draws closer to taking charge of its own affairs, much more needs
to be done to improve the status of women and to then safeguard that position.
The committee also notes Oxfam's and Mr Krishnan's acknowledgement of
Australia's contribution to helping combat violence against women in
Afghanistan and CARE's praise of the DIAC-funded programs for livelihood.
Clearly, however, much more needs to be done in this area. The committee
commends the Australian Government for its strong recognition of the rights of
women in its aid programs. It heeds the cautionary words from a number of
witnesses, however, on the importance of achieving qualitative change in women's
representation. The committee also notes the opportunities to encourage gender
equality through Australia's contribution to training, mentoring and advising the
Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
The committee takes the opportunity to acknowledge the work that
Australian funds have done in promoting gender equality in Afghanistan. As
suggested by NGOs, however, there is a pressing need for more to be done
especially to eliminate violence against women and girls. Clearly, removing all
forms of discrimination against women is a key cross cutting-issues that should
have a central place in all Australian aid programs in Afghanistan across all
The committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to
provide funding for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Considering that gender equality is an objective that cuts across
all sectors covered by development assistance, the committee recommends that
all relevant recommendations in this report give special attention to promoting
gender equality and protecting the rights of women.
The committee recommends that AusAID prioritise long-term support for
the delivery of services for women and girls, and for programs that advocate
for women’s rights. It recommends further that the Australian Government
include Afghanistan as a key country focus for implementing Australia’s
National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security in order to address the
related issues of violence against women and women’s political participation.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government directly fund
Afghan women’s organisations with both core and project funding, to enable
these organisations to develop their capacity to hold their government to
account and realise their leadership potential.
The committee recommends that AusAID works closely with the Afghan
Education Ministry and relevant NGOs to encourage the implementation of community-based
education schemes with the objective of increasing the accessibility of
schooling and bridging the gender gap with respect to illiteracy.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government commit adequate
funds over three years towards the National Priority Program: ‘Capacity
development to implement the National Action Plan for the Women of
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