‘Women’s empowerment is not in the status quo mode anymore in Afghanistan’

 Samira Hamidi is the Program and Advocacy Director for Empowerment Center for Women-ECW and former Director of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), which comprises more than 90 women’s organizations and 5,000 individuals. She is also the recipient of Afghan Presidential Medal.

Q. Did you always want to become a women’s rights defender or it happened by chance?
A.
 I grew up in an educated family. My parents paid equal attention to me and my brothers for our growth, access to education and other opportunities. That helped me become independent and take my own decisions. While working in various organizations, interacting with women, understanding their issues, I decided to engage myself in women’s rights issues and address the challenges women of my country face.

Q. You have extensively worked to advance gender equality in Afghanistan. Has the ground reality changed in terms of women empowerment or is the status quo intact?

A. There have been tremendous changes in the life of women in last 12 years. Women’s access to education, healthcare, employment, political participation and economic engagement are some of the important steps towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. Afghan National Development Strategy and National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan are important tools that have led to empowerment of women. Afghanistan, for the first time, has Elimination of Violence against Women Law that addresses domestic violence as a social issue rather than a domestic one. After 12 years, women’s empowerment is not in the status quo mode.

Q. As the former Director of Afghan Women’s Network in Afghanistan, working with 90 women’s organizations and 5,000 individuals, what challenges did you confront and how was the experience?
A.
 During my tenure with AWN, it was challenging but rewarding to advocate and coordinate at the policy level, demand women’s role at various platforms, their participation as well as their role in decision-making. My overall experience has been enriching. AWN is an institution where women’s empowerment and equality is the vision. While I used my expertise and knowledge in leading the network, I also had the opportunity to learn a lot.

Q. The countdown for April 2014 elections has begun. How do you rate Karzai’s tenure and as an Afghan woman, what are your expectations from his successor?
A.
 I personally respect President Karzai for his courage to step in to lead Afghanistan in 2001 when there was no system in place and the development budget was zero. Most of the development today can be credited to his leadership. However, with time, he has failed to maintain the confidence people showed in him after he got re-elected in 2009. His decision to bring warlords and criminals in government has further dented the trust people had in him.

The new President has to show political will to support people’s aspirations and respect the core values of democracy. He should devise concrete plans to fight corruption, establish robust justice system and strong law enforcement sector. He must also consider inclusion of 30 percent women in the new cabinet as per Afghan Constitution, and appoint male cabinet members based on their past record.

Q. There is a political lobby that wants negotiations and peace parleys with Taliban. Do you think it is a sensible thing to do at this juncture?

A. The current peace process is not moving in the direction as the people of Afghanistan had recommended during the 2010 National Peace Consultative Jirga. The lack of a clear strategy on how the peace process will become inclusive is another issue. Lack of access to information, symbolic presence of women in High Peace Council and Provincial Peace Councils is another grave issue. I am not optimistic about any negotiation if women are not made part of it.

Q. There is a large majority of students who drop out of school. How can government encourage them to pursue higher education and have bigger goals in life?
A.
 More than 60 percent Afghan population are youth and the direction they take is bound to affect the country. Unfortunately the education sector is in shambles. Children still study in tents. The lack of security in some parts of country is another big challenge, forcing students out of school. Government needs to make education its top priority.

Q. Are you hopeful about the future of Afghanistan?
A.
 Despite all the challenges, it is important to admit that we have come a long way. We cannot expect a country that started from scratch to become fully developed in 12 years. All Afghans need to work together to build their country.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2014/03/10/womens-empowerment-is-not-in-the-status-quo-mode-anymore-in-afghanistan)

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About Zafar Mehdi
Maverick journalist, irreverent rebel, travel freak, cricket junkie, reluctant fundamentalist, student of life, dreamer, believer.

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