Origin of this initiative

The adoption of the new constitution in January 2004, which states that “the citizens of Afghanistan – whether man or woman – have equal rights and duties before the law,” was a significant step forward for Afghan women, but they still remain largely absent in public life.  The repression of women is still prevalent in rural areas where many families restrict their own mothers, daughters, wives and sisters from participation in public life.  The withdrawal of foreign military forces, the reduction of international aid, and the outreach to the Taliban have signaled the end of international involvement, which in turn raises concerns about the future situation of Afghanistan and particularly women, who could be in danger of losing the little progress they have made.

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Reconciliation, reconstruction and improved governance of Afghan society are high on the priorities of the government and women have an important role to play in the administrative and political structures of the State in other to help achieve these goals.  It is therefore essential to strengthen the capacity of Afghan women leaders and help to create a cohesive network among them to reinforce their abilities to collaborate effectively and reinforce each other in the face of the critical challenges before them.  A more effective working relationship, possibly will enhance their ability to achieve their mission and contribute to a more peaceful and democratic Afghanistan.

Objective and Approach

Our initiative is meant to address this challenge.  Modeled on a program launched in Burundi in 2003 by the Wilson Center’s Africa Program, the program is interactive and focused on building trust amongst women leaders, sharing the skills and tools necessary to effectively negotiate policy within Afghan institutions and to develop sustainable solutions to the challenges facing Afghanistan.  The objective of this program is to enhance and promote Afghan women’s empowerment and their active and meaningful participation in various institutions. It seeks to build leadership capacity to enable the democratic transition through imparting negotiation, communication, and collaborative decision making skills, breaking through the barriers of mistrust and suspicion that prevent the leadership from working together to sustain those transitions and reconciliation processes.  One of the great strengths of this program is the fact that it is conducted in Persian, as the lead facilitators and program coordinator are natives of the region.  It helps overcome the language barrier that is often cited as one of the main challenges that international organizations face in their capacity-building programs in Afghanistan.  It will also reach across the social and educational divides that exist within women leaders. It is hoped that this initiative offers first steps towards a broader initiative to support the collaboration of all Afghan leaders, men and women.

As background to this, the Wilson Center program in Burundi, and later in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Timor-Leste and Liberia, in its work with parliamentary and government leaders used the two negotiation and conflict management specialists, Fahimeh and Tina Robiolle, who both speak Persian.  They have developed teaching materials in Persian adapted to the specific context.  They are not only central to the design, coordination and facilitation of this  initiative, but have been developing a network of contacts in Afghanistan that has obtained their buy-in.