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“This is a new Afghanistan”: Women won’t be silenced

Canada in Afghanistan
Gender equality | October 2018

A post-Taliban generation of young women are fighting for equal participation in the future of their country.


The buzz of excitement was palpable as 13 young Afghan women leaders gathered in Kabul.

As they took their seats, a screen across the room revealed another woman leader of Afghan heritage, one on the other side of the world, Canada’s Minister of Status of Women, Maryam Monsef.

In their native language of Dari, the Minister and young women advocates spoke frankly about the challenges faced by Afghan women in today’s society. From economic empowerment to politics to the peace process, these women are passionate about building a more equal Afghanistan for everyone.


Women and Peace

Delegates raised concerns that Afghan women aren’t being meaningfully involved in peace negotiations.Delegates raised concerns that Afghan women aren’t being meaningfully involved in peace negotiations.

As peace negotiations quickly evolve, many are concerned about what gender relations will look like in a post-conflict Afghanistan.

The young leaders are worried that the few rights Afghan women have secured may be up for negotiation, or eliminated completely. Without women at the bargaining table, this seems even more likely.

“We as women need to tell the Taliban that this Afghanistan is not the Afghanistan from 17 years ago. This is a new Afghanistan.” – Young Afghan woman participant

The delegates called for women to be involved in all stages of the peace negotiations, from consultation to development to implementation. Although the government officially supports women’s participation in the peace process, the reality is very different: women delegates are left out of key negotiations and are often denied communication with Taliban negotiators.

Canada knows that gender equality and peace go hand in hand. When women and girls can influence the processes that affect their everyday lives, sustainable peace is much more likely, and when gender equality is upheld, societies are more peaceful.

“Where women and girls are included in peace processes, peace is more enduring.” – Chrystia Freeland, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs


Discrimination an everyday experience

Societal discrimination remains a significant hurdle for women on a day-to-day basis.

Maryam Bahar Sadat says women receive less economic and social support from their communities and governments than men, and therefore must be more self-reliant and creative.

“Every day, from when we leave the house to when we arrive at the office, we cannot be ourselves.” – Mayam Bahar Sadat

Maryam would know. As the co-founder of Peace House Organization in Afghanistan and a leader in a variety of community initiatives, she has worked closely with women from all walks of life.

To avoid further discrimination, she says women often censor themselves, lack confidence, or don’t speak out at all. If we want to encourage women to take up leadership roles and participate in politics, this discrimination needs to be addressed.

Dialogue with Afghan women - Transcript

Kabul – Ottawa

On 24 July 2018 Canadian Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef led a dialogue with Afghan women from the media, private sector, and civil society

The participants discussed issues relevant to Afghan women, including the ongoing peace process and women’s role in society

“Today the event was really effective, I would say we need more events like this where we can exchange the ideas. And it’s very very important to see the success stories of women from across the world, and especially if it is somebody with an Afghan heritage and who is currently the Minister of Women Affairs in one of the best countries around the world.” – Suraya Yosufi, Private Sector

“This program was really useful for me, I mean for everyone here, because it was a chance to meet an Afghan woman being in a leadership position in a developed country. And I think these kinds of sessions will really help us in changing the ideas and learning from the challenges and lessons learned of both sides. So it was really a pleasure to be in this session as well as learning from this session. So I think it would be really good to have such kinds of sessions in the future in order to learn about more and more of the challenges of Afghan women all over the world, not only in Afghanistan but other women who are in the leadership positions outside of Afghanistan. ” – Maryam Sadat, Women’s Rights Activist

“I felt that today’s program was very good and effective. The first thing that I would like to mention is that I think we should continue having these talks and dialogue because we need very deep conversations about the situation of women in Afghanistan. We all have our own concerns when it comes to the women of Afghanistan. This dialogue was important for me because, first of all, I was talking to a woman about these issues. This was so wonderful for me that women from two sides of the world, women from the developed world and women from our world, which is a world of war and suicide bombers, and sometimes a world of peace and youth, and talk together about the situation of women, about the violence here, the positive developments, and the bravery of women.” – Farahnaz Forotan, Journalist

“The ideas that we shared were very important – women in the peace process, women in the public sector, or women in the private sector. Minister Monsef actually shared a lot of, I would say, common ground with Afghan women. And we can actually exchange the ideas and also see what they are doing in terms of making the lives of women in Canada better, and how can we translate the same action in the Afghan context.” – Suraya Yosufi, Private Sector


Ask women what they want

As a well-known host of a prominent Afghan television channel, Farahnaz Forotan is used to asking Afghan politicians tough questions.

Farahnaz did not hold back when explaining that projects funded by donors like Canada need to reach those most in need. Projects often support educated, urban women, but not the rural and illiterate women who are even more marginalized.
13 young women leaders gathered in Kabul to discuss the challenge faced by Afghan women in today’s society.

“When you plan your aid, ask women what they want.” – Farahnaz Forotan

Other young women leaders echoed their agreement, and specified that projects need to meaningfully consider the needs of women from different backgrounds.


An Afghan-Canadian perspective

Minister Monsef connects with young women in Afghanistan via video conference.Minister Monsef connects with young women in Afghanistan via video conference.

As a former refugee of Afghan heritage, Maryam Monsef shares common ground with many of the women leaders.

After her address to the 5th Afghan Women’s Symposium in Kabul earlier this year, the Minister was eager to hear from the young women leaders and impressed by their deep knowledge, fresh perspectives and creative ideas.

“You give me hope and confidence. You are determined for the future of your country.” – Maryam Monsef, Canada’s Minister of Status of Women

The Minister shared many of the priorities raised by the Afghan young women – economic empowerment, preventing violence and discrimination, and promoting women in leadership.

From opposite sides of the world, the forum allowed the Minister and youth to learn from each other and connect over shared experiences, lessons learned and hopes for the future.

“I think these kind of sessions will really help us [in] changing the ideas and learning from the challenges and lessons learned of both sides” - Maryam Sadat


Taking action

As part of its “Women and Girls’ Rights First” approach in Afghanistan, Canada is moving this dialogue into action.

$8.4 million over the next five years will be dedicated to a new “Women’s Voice and Leadership” project to support Afghan women’s organisations and networks working to promote women’s rights, and advance women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, the Embassy funds small projects developed and implemented by local organizations. Last year, the Embassy provided $178,000 to five projects focused on women and girls’ rights. By responding directly to local needs, these modest contributions have a huge impact.

In fact, Soghra Sadat, one of the dialogue participants, has worked closely with the Embassy when the CFLI funded Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA), the non-profit organization where she works.

In 2016, the Government of Canada announced $465 million in security and development support to Afghanistan, including funds to empower women and girls.

Women and girls remain at the forefront of Canada’s work in Afghanistan, and the Embassy will continue to engage with women activists, community leaders and other partners to develop meaningful support for women across the country.


Continuing the conversation

Minister Monsef declared that this would not be the last discussion with female leaders and intends to continue dialogue with these 13 young women and more.

The passionate young women leaders will continue to advocate for women’s equality – in civil society, the private sector and in academia.

Farahnaz Forotan concluded, “This was so wonderful for me, that women from two sides of the world, women from the developed world and women from our world…[can] talk together about the situation of women.”


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