Women. Power. Peace.

Lots of interest, little consensus

Last week was a busy one for us in Washington as President Obama released his FY 2013 Budget Request, we prepped for a weekend media training, and WAND partnered again with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame to continue our work focused on women in Afghanistan.

With WAND Executive Director Susan Shaer and Kroc Policy Director David Cortright both in town, we were eager to spread our message widely. We spoke with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, met with women from Kandahar and Kabul, and talked to our NGO allies and Afghan partner organizations about their work. And from every audience, we heard the same refrain: We must preserve the gains that Afghan women have made. We know that peace cannot be won without the work of women. We must support a peace-building transition strategy that emphasizes the roles and rights of women.

But how?

Recent polls show a record high 63% of Americans are opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Now it seems Washington, too, has joined the consensus that it is time to bring our troops home. On February 1, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the United States will end its combat missions in Afghanistan by “mid- to the latter part of 2013.” Last week, eighty seven Members of Congress, including nine Republicans, sent a letter to President Obama praising the administration’s decision to bring home all combat troops from Afghanistan on this accelerated timetable.

As we spoke about our work last week, it was clear that there is an interest in supporting the women of Afghanistan, but there is little consensus on how to do so. For some groups, women’s entrepreneurship and participation in business is paramount to their equality. For others, all women must vote for real equality to be won.

Above all, Afghan women must be safe.

WAND and the Kroc Institute support a strategy that enhances security through demilitarization and promotes women’s rights through inclusive peace processes and development initiatives. Militarized strategies are undermining security and jeopardizing women’s rights. As we drawdown troops through 2013, we must explore alternative policies for gradual demilitarization and pursue political solutions, increasing support for economic and social programs that help women.  See “A Peace-Building Transition Strategy for Afghanistan” for specific recommendations from WAND and Kroc.

Congress and the administration now face major policy and budget priority decisions on how to manage transition in Afghanistan. As U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, our commitment to and engagement with the country must not end. The United States has a responsibility to maintain support for development and health programs and has the power to assure women’s participation in reconciliation and reintegration program. Women must be able to vote, own businesses, and attend schools, and they must be safe in order to do so. To guard against a roll back in women’s gains—and to be successful in Afghanistan— the meaningful representation of women in all peace negotiations and post-conflict recovery planning is critical.

-Elizabeth Holland, Policy Associate

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