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Amongst conflict lies hope: in conversation with Wazhma Frogh

Wazhma Frogh. Photo: Palak Rao

"To think of Afghanistan as a post-conflict country is a wrong assumption", women's rights activist Wazhma Frogh claimes.

19.05.2017 Av: Palak Rao, FOKUS intern

“The world is making wrong assumptions when it says Afghanistan is a post-conflict country”, states Wazhma Frogh.

Wazhma Frogh is the founder of Women & Peace Studies Organization (WPSO) in Afghanistan and a women’s rights activist. Frogh was in Norway in late April to speak at a conference. She also visited FOKUS to share updates on the progress of the Afghan National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325.

In 2001, Afghanistan witnessed the fall of the Taliban when the western and Afghan forces aggressively pushed them back into the interior regions. But over the years, the conflict has escalated and the Taliban now occupies more than one-fifth of the country.

With many having lost their lives, the situation in Afghanistan is grim. This becomes all the more apparent when one sees the condition of women and girls there.

“In the areas where the Taliban and Daesh are active there is no possibility for a woman to step out of her house”, says Wazhma.

From schools being closed to female clinics being vandalized, the country seems to be progressing backwards for women and young girls.

“Sometimes, I fear for my life”, she adds.

Hopeful

Nevertheless, even amongst the troubles and disputes there is hope. In July 2015, the Government of Afghanistan painstakingly launched the National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Seen as a groundbreaking achievement for women rights, the Afghanistan NAP promises to address the challenges faced by women in the aftermath of conflict and war and stresses on the importance of women’s participation in all aspects of peace negotiations and development.

For Wazhma, the NAP is a good initiative from the government since it not only streamlined and incorporated activities done by Afghan civil society in the past but also portrayed the government’s commitment and obligation towards advancing women’s rights.

Tough roads ahead

But like all great initiatives, the Afghanistan NAP too has flaws.

“Implementation is a huge challenge”, argues Wazhma.

With only two individuals responsible for the execution of the NAP nationally and none of the ministries having implemented the plan in their areas of work, the Afghan government lacks capacity to enact the NAP due to limited resources.

“The budgeting of the NAP will be completed by the end of the month”, adds Wazhma.

The second challenge for the NAP lies in the lack of awareness. For Wazhma who worked within the Ministry of Defense for over a year on raising women capacity in security forces realized that very little information exists about the NAP or the UNSCR 1325.

“No discussions around raising awareness have taken place yet”, states Wazhma.

“Another area where NAP lacks substance is the absence of civil society monitoring”, mentions Wazhma.

Afghanistan has never had a vibrant civil society and in Wazhma’s words, the women’s movement is spiraling downwards. Nonetheless, she adds that the media often takes risks and the younger generation is now taking to the streets and voicing their opinions through peaceful demonstrations and protests.

The controversial law

Apart from the NAP, another landmark decision made by Afghanistan was to launch the EVAW Law (Elimination of Violence Against Women) and VAW units (Violence Against Women) in 2012. Passed in 2009 by the presidential decree, Wazhma and many more are proud of their lobbying that led to a law, which criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women.

A gender sensitive setup, VAW units register gendered crimes such as rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, and murder. They adhere to Afghan laws and Sharia principles.

“It is a very important institution for women”, says Wazhma, and adds that by the end of the year the government plans to have 34 VAW units all over the country.

Even though VAW units have been a success, recent reports from RIWPS (Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security) and CMI (CHR. Michelsen Institute) observe that almost 73 percent of registered cases are withdrawn by women themselves because they are pressured by judge officials, prosecutors and even family members to take back their case and instead opt for internal mediation.

Why this phenomenon was so prevalent in Afghan society? The reasons are complex, answers Wazhma. Living in a highly patriarchal society, Afghani women are often denied access to justice by judges, prosecutors and police who are men themselves. Also, most of the VAW units are run by men who don’t register cases for many reasons.

Interestingly, women also use the EVAW law as means to advance their civil rights.

“Often women register cases against men and this becomes a source of pressure on the man because either he is detained or called in by the police and eventually he gives into the demands of the woman who might be looking for a divorce”, says Wazhma. Once the demands are met, women withdraw their cases.

Norway’s role in Afghanistan

Placing Afghanistan as its priority countries in its own NAP on Women, Peace and Security 2015-18, Norway wants to achieve results on peace and security work that makes a real difference to women’s daily life.

Apart from the funding that NORAD provides projects and organizations that work in Afghanistan, the Norwegian government also directly provides funding to a government trust called the “Afghanistan reconstruction trust”.

“Another source of engagement is the public diplomacy done by Mari Skåre, the Norwegian Ambassador to Afghanistan”, adds Wazhma. In her opinion, the EU holds a strong voice when it comes to human rights issues in Afghanistan.

The future ahead

“Most parts of Afghanistan are still in war”, sighs Wazhma, and she fears that the future ahead may not be a bright one. With growing fears about the return of local warlords, they are targeting important social institutions such as schools, hospitals, media etc. The NAP is no exception either and there is a long way to go before one can observe real changes within Afghani society, Frogh adds.