UN led talks on Afghanistan’s future government continue in Bonn, Germany today, as representatives of the country’sethnic groups and military factions try to cobble together a transitional government. Afghan Women are demanding arole in these talks as well, hoping to end 20 years of systematic exploitation and their near total exclusion fromAfghan political life.
It’s a daunting task–Bringing peace to an impoverished Islamic country that has been devastated by drought,invasion, civil war and most recently US bombing, and ripped apart by local patriarchs who have manipulated religionand ethnicity for their own ends.
Guaranteeing women’s rights in such a situation might be an even more demanding task.
But there is a precedent in the experience of Somalia. In 1993, US troops under UN command left a devastated andnearly ungovernable Somalia in which the rights of women were also systematically violated.
But in August 2000, after seven years of UN administration and failed negotiations, 25 women became members ofSomalia’s Transitional National Assembly. This January, the UN Security Council reaffirmed their commitment to peacein Somalia under that new government, a peace which is ironically being undermined by the US seizure of Somalibusinesses since September 11.
The dramatically improved status of women in Somalia was not a gift. Rather it was the result of years of patientorganizing by Somali women, supported by the international community, who built institutions led by women andinvolved them in the building of a civil society. Now one of the Somali activists who helped to bring these womentogether is working with her sisters from Afghanistan and hoping they can learn from Somalia’s experience.
- Hibbaq Ossman, Somali-born woman’s rights activist and head of the Center for the Strategic Initiatives ofWomen, which has worked in Somalia since 1993. Hibbaq’s organization helped to organize the first Afghan Women’sSummit, which will take place next week in Brussels.