This morning (3 September), 40 men in black suits gathered at City Hall, Cardiff, surrounding one Afghan woman in bright colourful clothing holding a sign that read "Talk to me, not about me".
The protest was organised on the eve of the UK-hosted NATO summit being held in Newport tomorrow and Friday, to draw attention to the ratio of women to men in key peace talks and global security negotiations. The campaigners said that it was completely unacceptable that women have been so outnumbered with only one in every 40 signatories a woman on global peace agreements over the last three decades. Without meaningful participation from 50 per cent of the population, peace and security agreements cannot possibly be sustainable or effective, campaigners said.
At the NATO conference this week, the future of training and support for Afghanistan is on the agenda. This will have significant implications for millions of Afghan women. However, when Afghanistan's security is discussed tomorrow, the voices of Afghan women will once again be worryingly absent, campaigners warned. So far, it is not clear whether any high-level women will be in attendance at the discussions. The UK ministerial delegation is entirely male.
The campaigners, including Afghan women’s activists, Amnesty International and ‘No Women No Peace’, are calling on the UK and other NATO member governments to ensure that discussions about women’s roles in Afghanistan’s developing security institutions are on the summit agenda, with specific commitments to increase the number and effectiveness of women at all levels of the Afghan National Security Forces.
Samira Hamidi of the Afghan Women’s Network, said: “NATO needs to hear this message loud and clear; Afghan women must be at the table.
“There are so many capable women ready to take the important decisions needed to shape our country’s future. We don’t want these matters being decided for us behind closed doors.
“How can we be expected to be taken seriously at home when we are being sidelined in the very places where we should be championed?”
Campaigners believe that some recent positive efforts risk being undermined by the absence of women at the summit. In June, the UK hosted a high-profile summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, chaired by the then Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie. Soon afterwards, NATO Foreign Ministers agreed an action plan on improving women's role in peace and security. At both, statements were made about the importance of women’s security being discussed at global summits and how vital it was that women contributed to those discussions. This NATO summit was the first opportunity to realise those commitments, but campaigners say those recent promises have now been betrayed. Women and security is not due to be specifically discussed, and women are not there to input into the discussions.
Hasina Safi, Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Network, said: “Nobody has greater insight into the security challenges facing Afghanistan than Afghan women themselves.
“The Afghan Women’s Network recently consulted hundreds of women who have got plenty to say about security and the role of the Afghan national forces.
“If you ask them, Afghan women will describe how violence impacts their lives in every sphere, but they also have solutions for how to overcome these challenges. The message from the women of Afghanistan is this; NATO should talk to me, not just about me.”
* The ‘No Women, No Peace’ campaign is a coalition including ActionAid, Amnesty International UK, Oxfam GB, Womankind Worldwide and Women for Women International. The campaign is run by these organisations under the Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS) network who promote women’s rights in Afghanistan.