Manizha Naderi Discusses the Situation of Women in Afghanistan at Women, Peace, and Security Lecture



The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination's Project on Gender in the Global Community sponsored a lecture and discussion, "Women in Afghanistan: Prospects for 2014," on Friday, September 13, 2013, at the United Nations in New York. The featured speaker was Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women. The event was part of a series of lectures and panels on the UN's Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, organized by LISD's Project on Gender in the Global Community, the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, and the PeaceWomen Project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. The event can be viewed on UN Web TV.

The implementation of the UN’s Women, Peace, and Security agenda on the ground is in many respects lagging far behind its ambitious conceptual framework. Case in point is the situation of women in Afghanistan which remains highly insecure, and many fear, will only become more difficult with the coming international military drawdown in 2014. On the protection side, attacks, intimidation, and sexual violence against women and girls—including abduction, rape, and trafficking—are widespread. On the participation side, the representation and active participation of women in political processes remain limited. There is moreover an acute risk that women will effectively be excluded from peace talks with the Taliban, with the result that the fragile rights women have gained in Afghanistan since 2002 will be negotiated away in a formal peace process in which they have no substantive voice.

With more than a decade of experience confronting these challenges on the ground, Manizha Naderi offered her thoughts on the potential impacts of the troop drawdown and negotiations with the Taliban for women in Afghanistan, and the importance of civil society groups such as Women for Afghan Women in protecting women on a day-to-day basis.

Naderi began her talk by noting that in comparison to the situation of women in Afghanistan before 2002, much progress has been made. Girls now attend school throughout the country, women have a voice in the political process and female parliamentarians are participants in crafting laws for the country, and women's economic options are growing. "Women in Afghanistan are thriving, positive things are happening," Naderi said, "but we're at a crossroads." The gains women in Afghanistan have realized, Naderi observed, remain insecure, and there is growing concern about how the 2014 withdrawal of international troops, the 2014 Afghan elections, and negotiations with the Taliban will impact women.

Negotiations with the Taliban to bring security and political stability to Afghanistan, Naderi argued, should be a non-starter. "The Taliban are still the Taliban, they cannot be trusted," she argued. Naderi urged people to consider the outcomes of other attempts to negotiate peace with the Taliban, using Pakistan's Swat Valley as an example. Under the Taliban, in the Swat Valley schools were closed to girls, women were required, under threat of violence, to wear burqas and remain largely absent from public activities. What followed from a peace deal there between the Taliban and the Pakistani government however was intensified fighting. "Everyone wants peace for Afghanistan," Naderi asserted, "but it must not come on the backs of Afghan women."

In negotiations with the Taliban, Naderi continued, the women named to the High Peace Council in reality are not included in the peace talks in any real way. These women were named to the Council only to assuage international stakeholders, namely the United States, Naderi said, and are not being taken seriously. Without a real voice in these talks, women's rights are at risk of being negotiated away in the search for stability after the 2014 military withdrawal. "What kind of peace do we want?," Naderi asked, "A peace for some or a peace for all?"

In this context, the work of women's civil society organizations, like Women for Afghan Women (WAW), are all the more important. Naderi, Executive Director of WAW, discussed several cases of baad—the traditional practice of trading a young girls for settlement of a dispute or debt—and abuse with which WAW has recently dealt to highlight the precariousness of life for women in Afghanistan. Through its family guidance centers and the courts, WAW works to mediate with families and act as advocated on behalf of women. "They are broken, they arrive at the shelters victims, but quickly gain their voice," Naderi said of the women and girls who are aided by WAW. But the work of bringing women's assailants to justice and protecting of women from violence is becoming more challenging as 2014 approaches, she said, noting that the commitment to political and cultural change necessary to address women's status in Afghanistan is in many respects flagging. "It may take a long time—a generation, two generations—to change the culture," Naderi observed, "but we're doing it one step at a time."   

Manizha Naderi was born in Kabul and raised in New York. She joined Women for Afghan Women (WAW) in 2002 as the director of the organization’s Community Outreach Program. In 2006, she moved permanently to Kabul to direct WAW’s work in Afghanistan. There she created groundbreaking projects, including the Family Guidance Center, which offers counseling and mediation to families in crisis and to women and girls who are experiencing domestic violence, forced and underage marriages, rape, sex trafficking, and other gross violations of their human rights. Women for Afghan Women now operates 8 Family Guidance Centers in 8 Provinces and has helped some 7,000 women since 2007. As part of Women for Afghan Women's work, Naderi has also opened 7 shelters for women and girls who could not return home because of threats of violence, initiated literacy and vocational training classes to help women earn a living and achieve financial independence, and started 3 Children Support Centers for children who were residing with their mothers in prison. Over two hundred children are now living and receiving an education at WAW’s Children Support Centers. Naderi is currently working to expand the Centers to other provinces in Afghanistan.