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A police officer who checks women for weapons and bombs sits in a security area outside provincial government buildings in Kabul. | photo: Lana Slezic /

A police officer who checks women for weapons and bombs sits in a security area outside provincial government buildings in Kabul. | photo: Lana Slezic /


peace Afghan women and security

by Jude MacDonald | February 6, 2008

On January 20, 2008, the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) office in Kabul burned down. A fuel oil fire destroyed everything, though no life was lost. It is described on the group’s website as “the worst day in history of AWN.”

That’s saying something, considering the location.

The fire is a devastating blow to an organization that “envisions an Afghanistan in which all members – women, children, and men – participate equally. Furthermore, the members aspire to create an Afghan community which values, respects, and encourages the tremendous capacities of women and their contributions to Afghan culture and society.”

Two days later and half a world away, the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan released its report.

“Our assessment of the situation recognizes the enormity of the challenge: regional instability; slow progress on reconstruction and development; mounting insecurity and violence; corruption, criminality and increasing poppy production.”

— Chair’s Forward, Final Report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan | January 22, 2008

The report concluded that this country “... must place greater emphasis on diplomacy and reconstruction and the Canadian military focus must shift gradually from combat to training Afghan national security forces.”

While there are a few historical references to women, gender, females and girls in the 90-page document, how the current situation affects them is not explored. Neither is what Canada can do about it.

some facts about women and girls in Afghanistan

  • 48.9% of Afghanistan’s population is female
  • At primary level there is one girl student for every two boys
  • At secondary level there is one girl for every five to six boys
  • One cabinet member is female
  • Of the 1,547 sitting judges in Afghanistan, 62 are female
  • Women represent less than 1% of employees in Police or Military services
  • One woman dies every 29 minutes in child birth (1,600 to 1,900 deaths per 100,000 live births, the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world)
  • 83% of the 50,000 Afghans who die from tuberculosis each year are women
  • 70 to 80% of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan
  • In 2004, 87% of Afghans believed that women need a male relative’s authorization to vote
  • — Situation of Women in Afghanistan, UNIFEM fact sheet | May 2007

Canada did make a commitment to the women of Afghanistan almost one year ago. On March 5, 2007 – at the beginning of International Women’s Week – the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations announced this country was launching its Action Plan for the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

This comprehensive all-of-government Action Plan addresses the four key areas covered by Security Council Resolution 1325, including, for instance, the need for full and equal participation of women in peace processes and peacebuilding activities and the importance of gender equality training for all personnel involved in peace support operations. Canada’s Action Plan also emphasizes Canada’s commitment to reducing and ending impunity for all forms of violence against women and girls, including sexual exploitation and abuse. International Women’s Day is an occasion for us to review how far we have come in the struggle for equality, peace and development.

Eleven months later, Canada has not completed this action plan, despite a continued commitment to Resolution 1325. And nowhere is the resolution mentioned in the report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan.

Not everyone forgot about it. When the panel was gathering information, several submissions from non-governmental organizations asked that the report recommend the full implementation of 1325 in the Afghanistan mission.

Without freedom from gender-based violence, women cannot meet their daily needs, or participate in elections, attend public debates, or engage in leadership roles in their communities. Hence, their concerns are often overlooked by those involved in programming, aid and governance. This becomes a vicious cycle: women's security is not sufficiently addressed because women are not at the table; women are not at the table because their security is not addressed.

— Human Rights, Gender and Governance: building the future through the present, Afghanistan Reference Group | December 1, 2007

According to the RAND Corporation article “The Case of Post-Conflict Afghanistan,” including women as soon as possible in the reconstruction of the country is “likely to improve the outcomes of post-conflict nation-building ... In fact, the inclusion of women earlier in the process brings more security, not less.”

The Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee’s Gender and Peacebuilding Working Group calls for the “integration of a gender equality perspective in Canada's foreign policy agenda, particularly in: human rights and conflict prevention, human security, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction and reintegration.”

As the political parties in Ottawa debate our role in Afghanistan, there is one unanswered question: How central an issue do we really consider the future of women there to be?

As we prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I hope that Afghan political and community leaders, together with their international supporters and partners, will continue to affirm human rights as the central goal of Afghanistan’s path to security and development.

— High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour | November 20, 2007


  • Seasonal Feature

  • April 1994: the night raid at Kingston’s Prison for Women

    by Sierra Bacquie

    There was supposed to be a new approach to the Correctional Service of Canada’s relationship to female offenders, who were promised responsible choices, respect, dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. But on the night of April 26, eight women experienced humiliation, degradation, raw fear and trauma at the hands of an all-male emergency team. How did this happen? What has changed since?  read more