On July 27th, the members of the UN Security Council held an Arria-formula meeting to discuss the meaningful participation of women in the Afghan peace process; the promotion of their rights in the peace agreement, and the importance of the protection of the gains and achievements of Afghan women over the past 19 years. The Arria-formula meeting was held in light of possible imminent start of intra-Afghan negotiations. It was hosted by Afghanistan and the United Kingdom as co-chairs of the UN Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan, and as well as by the Security Council co-penholders on Afghanistan, Germany and Indonesia.
Following opening statements by the Permanent Missions of the organizers, the meeting was opened by H.E. the First Lady of Afghanistan, Ms. Rula Ghani. Members of the panel also included Ms Hasina Safi, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Dr Habiba Sarabi, Member of the Negotiating Team, Ms Ghezal Haris, Head of the Afghanistan Ombudsperson’s Office, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, Ms. Deborah Lyons, and the Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations, Ambassador Alya bint Ahmed Al Thani. Representatives from the Security Council also took the floor and were followed by Norway and Uzbekistan. Baroness Fiona Hodgson of Abinger, Honorary Member of the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan, offered closing remarks.
In her keynote statement, H.E. the First Lady said Afghan women had been central to political discussions about peace in recent years. The First Lady highlighted the National Consensus for Peace initiative, which involved consulting 15,000 women across Afghanistan and women’s participation in the Loya Jirga on peace in 2019. Women would remain central to peace now, including as members of the Afghan negotiating team. Afghans were prepared to welcome the Taliban into Afghan society, but not at the cost of Afghan women’s rights. Finally, the First Lady insisted that the Taliban could not re-impose their rule by violence and had to recognize Afghan society had changed since 2001.
The First Lady was then followed by the panel, started with Minister Safi who underscored that a successful peace process requires investing in Afghan women who are ready to lead their issues themselves. She underlined the role of the international community in supporting the advocacy efforts of Afghan women while also highlighting the Afghan Government’s commitment to listen to the needs of women, especially when it came to peace. Minister Safi also emphasized the appointment of women in government positions on the provincial level and above as tangible and concrete indicators of change. Dr. Sarabi then followed by asserting that all Afghan women, both in rural areas and cities, together insist on the protection of their rights as granted by the constitution. She further added that the negotiating team is ready to start negotiations under the very clear position and commitment to a peace. It would also be committed to an Afghanistan in which the rights of women are respected and promoted and in which the intrinsic values of a free and participatory republic with its institutions are maintained and protected. On that point, Ms. Haris added that any compromise to citizen’s rights and liberties would erase the gains of nearly two decades, and that even though all Afghans desire peace, the need remains for a peace that respects an inclusive process – not one that results in the exclusion of women and religious minorities. She further highlighted this in the context of the Afghan constitution of 2004. The document reconciles Islam, democratic values and principles, human rights and the Afghan culture.
Following the Afghan members of the panel, SRSG Lyons took the floor and spoke about how women’s rights and freedoms may be among the most challenging topics on the agenda in the peace process. She stressed that the world will be watching to see how all parties and individuals treat these topics and whether they are working to the benefit of 100% of Afghans and not just the 50%. She further stressed that any compromise or step backwards will not go unnoticed and that all will be held to account for the part they play. Closing the panel, Ambassador Al-Thani added her country’s voice in support protecting the rights of all Afghans as part of the peace process and stressed that any political settlement must protect that role of all Afghans, including women, youth and minorities. She underscored her country’s role in assisting Afghanistan in its path towards peace and stressed ensuring the rights of women as a key objective of intra-Afghan peace discussions.
Following the panel, members of the Security Council commended efforts of the Afghan Government. They expressed their support to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process in Afghanistan and highlighted the need to include Afghan women in all levels of the peace process, maintain a permanent ceasefire, and encourage meaningful involvement of civil society in negotiations. It was emphasized that female peace builders and human rights defenders in Afghanistan are at a high risk of violence and their security must be protected. The international community must ensure that the social, political, and economic gains from the past two decades are preserved and built upon. Norway’s Chargé d’Affaires, Susan Eckey and Uzbekistan’s Permanent Representative Bakhtiyor Ibragimov closed interventions by Member States. Ambassador Eckey stressed the need for a political settlement that protects the rights of Afghan youth, women and minorities, while also stressing the need to focus on women’s participation in all phases of the peace process and to ensure the safety of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders. Ambassador Ibragimov asserted his country’s commitment to continue to work to empower Afghan women through the creation of education institutions and assist Afghanistan in various matters, including on peace negotiations and aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting was then closed by Baroness Hodgson of Abinger who reiterated the common message that to achieve peace and security in Afghanistan, Afghan women have to be part of the peace process. She further stressed that we owe it to the brave Afghan women who will be left vulnerable and in danger unless we ensure that the progress they have made is secure for the long term. Ambassador Adela Raz from Afghanistan then added to the closing remarks by stressing that the support displayed during the meeting embodied the spirit of cooperation, collaboration and solidarity that the Security Council demonstrates, and that together with the international community Afghanistan will achieve a peace that is equitable, just, and which puts women and girls at the center.
This virtual informal Security Council Arria-Formula meeting was the latest in a series of events organized by the UN Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan which was formed in November of 2019 to highlight the importance of protecting and enhancing women’s rights and the role that women can play across society and government, including in peace efforts.