Arian Mouj Sharifi
International Crisis Group Report on Women & Reconstruction
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 02:25:49 -0000
From: "Rasul Mobin"
Subject: International Crisis Group Report: Women and Reconstruction
International Crisis Group Report: Women and Reconstruction
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The establishment of an Interim Administration for Afghanistan during
the Bonn talks in December 2001 was heralded as offering Afghan women
a chance to claim their place in public life and participate in the
country's development after systemic exclusion under the Taliban.
Creation of a Ministry of Women's Affairs, the commitment of
substantial donor assistance to programs targeting women, and, most
critically, the return of women to universities, schools, and
government offices all portended a new day.
Lost in the initial euphoria, however, was attention to the critical
factors that had made past reform on women's rights unsustainable and
to the task of identifying strategies for mainstreaming gender issues
in the development process as a whole. Without a coherent policy
regarding gender and development on the part of both the
international community and the Karzai government, donor assistance
is being channelled to projects likely to prove at most symbolic.
The Ministry of Women's Affairs is the logical vehicle for developing
strategies to embed gender in the planning activities of the line
ministries. It has, however, been hobbled by lack of professional
capacity and a hierarchical structure that impedes collaboration
between its departments. This stems in part from its absorption of a
communist-era women's association, whose vocational training mission
is ill suited to current challenges. In the words of a gender
specialist in Kabul, the ministry is "functioning as a relatively
large NGO". The steps needed to make it more effective include re-
staffing to develop research, program development, and budgeting
capabilities; creation of links between its departments; and
establishment of health, education, and gender advocacy and training
The mechanisms established to improve coordination between ministries
and between the government and donors have significant structural
defects. Although the government has requested all ministries to name
gender focal points, most have appointed lower-level officials who
have little authority to shape planning and policies.
To improve budgetary policy formation through early public and
international input, the administration has also developed an
internal structure of policy coordination bodies,
called "consultative groups", as well as a Gender Advisory Group that
includes donor participation. Twelve budgetary program areas have
been divided between seventeen consultative groups, or working groups
of ministries, donors, and NGOs headed by a lead ministry. To date,
these have failed to incorporate gender effectively into the national
budget or the policy calculations of the line ministries.
Donor assistance, both to government and civil society, has been
directed toward quick-impact, high visibility projects. Relatively
little research has been done into their sustainability and their
accessibility to women, particularly in rural areas. The Ministry of
Women, assisted by the United Nations Development Fund for Women
(UNIFEM) and funded by a U.S.$2.5 million grant from the U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID), plans to establish community
development centres in fourteen provincial capitals, with a goal of
expanding them to cover all 32 provinces.
Gender and development specialists in Kabul are sharply divided on
the utility of these centres. Some argue that the international
community should have first directed resources to studying local
modes of organising and conducting broader consultations with women
in the provinces. Other donor-supported activities, including sewing
centres and women's shelters, have similarly been established without
The barring of women by the Taliban from most employment and
secondary school education paradoxically galvanised Afghan women
activists. The underground schools and literacy programs they
established have given rise to many of the NGOs now active in Kabul.
Many, however, are dependent on donor support, channelled through
large international NGOs. The small grants that they receive restrict
their capacity for growth and limit their activities to vocational
training, literacy programs, and other activities that have marginal
impact on women's economic empowerment.
Woman activists, particularly those who attempt to educate and
mobilise women around issues related to political participation, also
operate in a difficult environment. Some interviewed by ICG recounted
threats they have received. A renewed and expanded international
commitment to security is urgently needed if the limited gains women
have made in Kabul are to be institutionalised and emulated in other
Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 5 March 2003, as Afghanistan
is in the midst of ambitious constitution-drafting and judicial and
legislative reform, creates an historic opportunity and obligation to
incorporate the treaty protections into national laws and
institutions. The constitutional process is also an opportunity to
incorporate women into political processes through broad-based
If gender equality is to obtain significant public support, arguments
and idioms are required that draw upon Islamic notions of equity and
social justice. Progressive legal and constitutional developments in
other Islamic countries, such as Iran's family courts, should be
examined as possible models for Afghanistan.
To Afghanistan's Transitional Administration:
1. Request the Ministry of Women's Affairs to study options for, and
adopt, an administrative structure that streamlines its functioning
and establishes crosscutting links within its departments.
2. Ensure that all ministries name as gender focal points officials
with at least the rank of deputy minister or department head and link
those gender focal points to the Gender Advisory Group, so that
policy recommendations can be disseminated within the government.
3. Appoint permanent managerial and technical support staff to the
Gender Advisory Group and other bodies that are meant to mainstream
gender policy in line ministries.
4. Appoint the members of the civil service commission, give it a
professional secretariat and use employment selection criteria it
develops as a basis for appointment to government posts and review of
existing appointments, including within the Ministry of Women's
5. Develop methods of ensuring that gender policy concerns are
incorporated within budgetary allocations of line ministries.
6. Establish family courts in each provincial centre, with
jurisdiction over all matters related to divorce, compulsory
marriage, child custody and inheritance, and ensure that judges
presiding over the courts are fully conversant with the civil code
and applicable international treaties to which Afghanistan is a
7. Incorporate women with experience in public life and advocacy into
the Constitutional Commission to ensure visible and meaningful gender
8. Ensure that input from the public consultation process,
particularly with women, is reflected in the final draft of the
constitution presented to the Constitutional Loya Jirga.
9. Ensure that the selection process facilitates women's
participation in the Constitutional Loya Jirga.
To the Judicial Reform Commission:
10. Incorporate the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW) into the revised civil and criminal codes, in
particular with respect to family law.
11. Identify appropriate progressive Islamic statutory systems,
including those of Tunisia and Malaysia, that could be sources for
revision of the civil and penal codes consistent with Afghan norms.
To the international community:
12. Include capacity building in programming and budgeting in the aid
given to the Ministry of Women's Affairs.
13. Support creation of micro-credit loan programs and training in
loan management for women.
14. Ensure that gender and development assistance is based on field
research and consultations with Afghan women, including market
research into income-earning opportunities, women's mobility in the
target areas, and accessibility of services.
15. Help the Ministry of Education develop curricula that explain
women's rights under the civil code and CEDAW in terms accessible to
both male and female students.
16. Support financially a consultation process on the constitution
that gives women a genuine voice and identify and support initiatives
to develop a constituency for women's rights within and outside the
government in the run-up to the Constitutional Loya Jirga.
To the United Nations:
17. Refocus UNIFEM's efforts on effective needs assessments,
appropriate income generation projects with the necessary auxiliary
training, and projects that build women's capacity to participate in
the political process.
To the states participating in ISAF:
18. Extend ISAF or an equivalent mission to additional areas of the
country, beyond Kabul, especially major urban centres, so that Afghan
women activists can operate there effectively.
Kabul/Brussels, 14 March 2003
mariam   April 15th 2003, 2003 12:11 PM
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