As we mark the closure of 16 Days of Activism for Elimination of Violence Against Women for the year 2020, we the members of Provincial Women Networks active in fifteen provinces of Afghanistan applaud the international community for supporting Afghanistan and standing with Afghan women to safeguard their rights. Afghanistan just witnessed another generous round of support from international partners and allies in the form of $13 billion in assistance commitments at the November 2020 pledging conference in Geneva.
Afghan society has evolved with respect to the role played by women, which has become increasingly significant over the last two decades. Today, women are seen not only in higher positions like ambassadors, ministers and deputy minister, but women are participating in sectors like security, justice, public health etc. Adolescent girls’ literacy rate is increased to 37% in comparison to literally 0% in 2001 and the maternal mortality is decreased to 400/100,000 from 1390/100,000 in 2001. Despite substantial improvements made with regard to gender equality since the removal of the Taliban in 2001, Afghan women still live precarious lives, as our country is regularly ranked among worst places to be born female.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Afghan women have continued to suffer from some of the world’s highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence, which affects 87 percent of the female population. Sexual and gender-based violence in the form of child marriage, domestic violence, denial of inheritance rights, baad, badal and virginity testing remain common practices. As grassroots networks working closely with rural communities, we play a crucial role in preventing sexual and gender-based violence against women, increasing women’s participation in the peace process, and promoting women’s equitable access to public services such as health and education.
In the year 2020, in collaboration with community elders, religious leaders and youth groups, we engaged with more than 20,000 members of our communities through community dialogues and door to door campaigns to raise awareness about COVID-19, preventive measures to be taken by communities and the impact of the pandemic on mental health leading to an increase in cases of domestic violence. We also provided our communities platforms to share their stories about how COVID-19 has affected their lives and how they are coping with the crisis. This work was crucial, especially in the early phase of the pandemic as most people did not have access even to basic information about COVID-19.
In addition, PWN members met the officials in Departments of Women’s Affairs, Public Health and Provincial Governors on a regular basis to share with them the issues and challenges that the communities faced during the pandemic, as well as to update ourselves about government policies and interventions related to the pandemic, mental health and domestic violence. Some of our members also attended meeting of Coordination Committees established by Public Health and Women’s Affairs Departments.
As women living in different provinces of Afghanistan, working with communities at the grass- roots level on different issues such as peacebuilding, conflict resolution, good governance and dealing with the pandemic, we would like to share our views with regard to violence against women with all actors including the Government, Taliban, Civil Society and International Community:
We the women from rural Afghanistan, have witnessed significant developments with regards to women’s role in the families, communities and society. The results of all the efforts and investments for women’s rights and advancement are quite visible now. We believe that the only way to a peaceful society is to eliminate violence and harassment and allow all citizens to exercise their rights and enjoy their freedom. It is therefore important that we continue our efforts in further promoting women’s rights as a joint societal value. We need to regard families and people based on how they treat women and poor people rather than their positions, villas, armored cars and bodyguards.
Provincial Women Networks are registered with Ministry of Justice of Afghanistan as grassroots networks. PWNs are bringing women together from different walks of life in each province to build trust and confidence, make alliances with different actors and work in their communities towards conflict resolution, peacebuilding and service delivery. The PWNs are active with 30 to 40 members in 15 provinces (Kabul, Parwan, Bamyan, Daikundi, Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Paktya, Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Balkh, Faryab and Herat). These networks were established by EQUALITY for Peace and Democracy (EPD) in seven provinces in 2012 and later expanded to cover fifteen provinces with technical support from Cordaid. The members are receiving tailored trainings and capacity buildings that are based on their needs to become more effective mediators and peacebuilders in their communities. As of now they have mediated, advocated and resolved more than 1,118 cases, which includes conflicts resolution cases, violence against women cases, prevention of child marriages, educating and empowering women, job placements, women’s political participation and promoting girls education in their communities. PWN members are also meeting on a regular basis among themselves to exchange ideas and share knowledge with each other as well as interact with women leaders, policy makers and others presenting their perspectives about conflict, peace and governance. PWNs’s awareness raising and advocacy activities with regard to COVID19 and its relation with mental health and domestic violence was also supported by Canadian Embassy’s Community Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI).
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