Reaction to Bonn Afghanistan Summit

by 11th Oct 2012
The Afghan Women's Network hold a press conference in Bonn - calling for women's achievements in Afghanistan in the last ten years to be built upon, not undermind. © Puthupparambil / CARE The Afghan Women's Network hold a press conference in Bonn - calling for women's achievements in Afghanistan in the last ten years to be built upon, not undermind. © Puthupparambil / CARE

The conference on Afghanistan in Bonn yesterday resulted in a statement which says all the right things, but lacks any specific commitments or actions to make them happen in reality.

CARE helped organise and host a series of meetings between leading women's rights activists in Afghanistan from the Afghan Women's Network (AWN) and diplomats before and during the conference. AWN launched a declaration based on consultations with over 500 women activists across Afghanistan, who collectively represent or work with over 500,000 Afghan women. This meeting, attended by journalists and members of European and Afghan civil society, happened on the morning of the official summit, immediately after President Karzai had given his opening speech.

A few months back, there were high hopes for Bonn. There was talk of the Taliban being represented as part of wider efforts to kick-start a peace process. There was the promise of fresh commitment to long-term support from major aid donor countries. Yet as the conference neared, expectations decreased. Fresh aid pledges were put in question by the corruption scandal at the Bank of Kabul and global economic crisis. Hopes for a peace process have been dampened in the wake of the assassination of ex-President Rabbani, who led the High Peace Council.

Yet over 100 representatives of the international community still gathered in Bonn, and a communiqué was duly issued by late afternoon. That document mentions election reform, upholding the Constitution, respect for women's rights, and strengthening the rule of law. That the international community and Government of Afghanistan have explicitly signed up to such priorities is certainly helpful for civil society groups that want to hold the decision-makers in Kabul and on the global stage to account. Yet in the absence of more specific commitments by different responsible institutions to act on these pledges within clear timelines, then many commentators fear that the rhetoric may not translate into reality.

Afghan Women's Network came to Bonn to launch a Declaration with a number of practical recommendations to aid donor countries, security forces, the Government of Afghanistan and other institutions with influence on the fate of Afghanistan and its women and girls. One important recommendation that remains neglected by the official communiqué is the question of how the Government and different international agencies monitor and respond to trends in the predicament of women and girls as international military forces withdraw. The nations that have deployed troops under NATO ISAF in Afghanistan have set a deadline of 2014 for withdrawing their forces from the country.

Women who were consulted through the AWN network across Afghanistan raised the concern that this process was too much defined in terms of international military priorities in security, and lacks any indicators for the Afghan population's security. AWN recommend that indicators should be developed to track changes in women's mobility and access to basic services, such as health and education, violence against women and their ability to participate in public life. Both the Government of Afghanistan and responsible international institutions should plan for ways in which they can mitigate and tackle any negative trends in these areas. "Sadly, the Bonn conference communiqué's section on security focuses mostly on military withdrawal, narcotics and terrorism. It makes no mention of such a people-centred approach to monitoring and responding to changes in security.

In the words of Samira Hamidi, the coordinator of AWN, at the launch of their Declaration: "General commitments to Afghanistan are all fine and well, but right now we need specific and clear commitments that different institutions will really implement."

Howard Mollett

I joined CARE in 2005, since then I’ve been lucky enough to work with our local teams and civil society partners in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Sudan, DRC, Kosovo and most recently on the Syria regional response team. My current responsibilities include co-chairing our global network of policy specialists on gender in emergencies, with a colleague in Pakistan, and leading CARE’s advocacy in the UK on the Syrian conflict.

Over the years, I have also worked on innovative research and advocacy with country teams on conflict analysis, civil-military relations and humanitarian access. What has kept me with CARE is the organisation’s support to grassroots activists and its commitment to addressing gender in a serious way.

Prior to joining CARE, previous roles included research on human security and development at the Centre for Defence Studies; the facilitation of a network monitoring human rights implications of the ‘Global War on Terror’; support to European coordination of the Make Poverty History campaign; global coalition-building with the Our World Is Not For Sale coalition; research on trade policy; and support to a network of environmental and human rights CSOs in the Balkans.

One good thing I’ve read

Drown by Junot Diaz - short stories that offer a brilliant fictional lens on gender, class and migrant experiences in the USA.


Twitter @HowardMollett