March 29, 2019
REGION: Middle East and North Africa, South Asia

In USIP’s Special Report, “Reaching a Durable Peace in Afghanistan and Iraq: Learning from Investments in Women’s Programming,” Steven E. Steiner and Danielle Robertson apply lessons learned from women’s programming in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide guidance for more effective design and implementation of peacebuilding and development programming that reflects the global Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 recognizes the critical role of women in peacebuilding, asserting that “peace and security efforts are more sustainable when women are equal partners in efforts to prevent violent conflict, to deliver relief and promote recovery, and to forge lasting peace.” Since the release of the WPS agenda in 2000, a growing body of research has supported the relationship between the equal status of women and national security. Nonetheless, peacebuilding agendas and the advancement of gender equality in Afghanistan and Iraq have faced serious challenges, necessitating a deep look at the structural and political barriers to progress.

The fragility of these countries enables violent nonstate groups and others hostile to women’s advancement to play a significant role in peace negotiations and political processes. In Afghanistan, though recent advancements in women’s equality have occurred, such as the constitutional recognition of women as equal citizens, laws prohibiting violence against women, and minimum quotas for female members of elected bodies, U.S. negotiations with the Taliban, as well as the presence of ISIS, pose serious threats to the status of women, as there is little indication these rights will be safeguarded. In Iraq, the volatility due to conflict and tension among ISIS, the Iraqi government, and Kurdistan regional government forces has resulted in contradictory developments for women. For example, while women have taken leadership roles in strengthening Iraqi civil society and providing aid in humanitarian efforts, the advancement of women’s status has also been hindered by ISIS dictates restricting women’s mobility and presence in public spaces, as well as by the Iraqi parliament’s attempts to pass a bill allowing marriage for girls as young as nine.

Recently, USIP collaborated with the think tank New America to convene roundtable discussions with experts from multiple sectors to reflect on the impact of women’s programming in fragile countries, Afghanistan and Iraq in particular, and to “ensure that findings are built into the learning cycles of women’s programming more broadly.” The dialogue resulted in the identification of four themes deemed critical to designing future programs that can effectively advance the rights of women and girls:

  • Participatory design: To be effective, program design and implementation should involve input from diverse Afghan and Iraqi women regarding the needs, dangers, and challenges of their communities. Participatory design, however, is often limited by deadlines and other logistics of the program design process. The authors suggest organizations ensure “they are working from relevant and timely conflict and gender analyses before designing any project.”
  • Holistic approach: Women, whose identities are multiple and intersecting, play a variety of roles in society. Programs aimed at advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment should take a holistic and intersectional approach, focusing beyond “women’s issues” to include issues of security, health, sanitation, governance, and corruption. Integrating key principles from the WPS agenda into various programs will reduce their fragmentation and result in more sustainable peacebuilding.
  • Long-term engagement: Violent conflict appears to last longer in recent times than it did in the past. Short-term programs are common due to reporting requirements, but often do not allow for lasting change. In order to address the deep-seated grievances underlying current conflicts, peacebuilding efforts necessitate a long-term approach (the authors suggest a minimum of five years) that are conducive to achieving larger generational goals rather than short-term objectives.
  • Thinking beyond women’s programming: Numerous systems (e.g., gender roles, tribal codes, governance structures, informal justice mechanisms, etc.) impact women’s agency, opportunities, and power, but often do not involve women in decision-making roles. As such, advancing gender equality requires disruption of broader social systems that regulate gender roles and norms. Specifically, programs need to move beyond traditional interventions targeted at women to reach men, boys, communities, families, and others who control decision making, in order to address broader gender dynamics.

The report concludes with several key recommendations for improving efforts on women’s programming. First, to give power and ownership to local voices, all peacebuilding work should be based in the local context. Relatedly, to ensure the project is attuned to current community dynamics, a gender analysis should be integrated into the design process. Further, the WPS agenda should be integrated in program design to align program goals with broader security and resiliency goals. Next, to allow time for adaption and improvement, longer project timelines that allow for learning periods are essential. Finally, to address root causes of gender equality and achieve transformational change, programs should broaden their focus beyond women to include families and communities, including boys and men.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).


Reaching a Durable Peace in Afghanistan and Iraq: Learning from Investments in Women’s Programming

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