On 10 March 2022, some 60 Afghan women from various sectors and groups (former Parliamentarians, politicians, judges, human rights activists and civil society representatives), from around the world (including from within Afghanistan), came together virtually, to launch a Forum to discuss the current situation and how to play a role in shaping the future of Afghanistan. The aim of the Forum is to facilitate an inclusive dialogue for Afghan women from various sectors to air their views, concerns, and priorities as part of the political dialogue about Afghanistan - and to ensure they are conveyed to the de facto government, and to the wider International Community, including the EU. The focus of the first meeting was on the key priorities, how the Forum should be structured, and working modalities.
Hosted by the EU, the launch was opened by EEAS Secretary General Stefano Sannino, and chaired by the EU Ambassador of Gender and Diversity and the EU Special Envoy to Afghanistan. The EU reiterated the five requirements set out for stepping up engagement with the de facto government (e.g. safe passage for everyone; respect for human rights; ensuring humanitarian access; and prevention of terrorism; and a negotiated and representative government). The centrality of human rights and in particular women and girls’ rights in exchanges with the Taliban was underlined, as well as the EU including women in negotiations while acknowledging that the Afghan women should be given their seat around that same table.
"We have been calling for a forum like this, owned and led by Afghan women as its women leaders have been forced to exile at a time when their continued engagement is necessary to stabilising peace in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has lost its civil society, its talent, its educated and its technical experts. We cannot afford this loss. We must reverse this loss by integrating exiled leaders to current structures and processes to bring peace and inclusive governance in Afghanistan." - Humaira Rasuli, WJO's Co-Founder and Executive Director who addressed the forum in March.
The first meeting of the Afghan Women Leaders’ Forum took place in Brussels on Thursday March 10 at Sofitel Place Jourdan. This will be the starting point for a series of gatherings to continue the structured dialogue on issues of importance to Afghan Women Leaders with the aim of supporting the development of common priorities. Prior to the first meeting a survey was sent out by EU to gather the women’s views and priorities for the thematic discussions to be held within the Forum.
The women sent a clear common message – the current situation in Afghanistan is unacceptable; women and girls need to be granted at least their basic rights. The de facto government has to be held accountable for the crimes committed, as well as to their own promises and Afghanistan’s international commitments. Calls were made for the international community to support a strategic and joint effort at the regional and international level to generate change. It was suggested a new Bonn conference is held with particular focus on women – their needs, concerns and meaningful participation. The women called for transparency in the talks and agreements that the international community is having and making with the de facto government, and an honest and in-depth reflection on how so many years of investment in good and inclusive governance could be overthrown and reversed so quickly. Part of that answer, it was suggested, lies within a lack of a long-term comprehensive vision and strategy. Many also insisted on the importance of continued humanitarian aid, but with a stronger gender lens and not on a project-basis only, with a suggestion for setting up a women’s consultative board and that the Forum should be made into a space not only for debate but also to take action and communicate in a way that can really make a change.
Some of the shared priorities include:
Rights: Monitoring and documenting violations of human rights and protecting the freedom of movement and of expression; and preventing and prohibiting violence against women and children to ensure the safety and security of women and girls at all times.
Access: Ensuring women’s access to the labour market and meaningful participation in social, economic, cultural and political life in Afghanistan.
Inclusive governance: Ensuring women’s direct participation and engagement in all political dialogues and peace talks concerning Afghanistan and its future.
Services: Providing equal provision of, and access to, basic services, including justice, humanitarian aid, health and education.