Comments on the Peace Jerga

(This commentary was written by Mahbouba Seraj, Women’s Programming Manager.   Peggy’s commentary is at the end.)

Afghanistan’s Peace Jirga is all over (at least for now) the world’s news.  Media is full of commentaries and criticism about the jirga, women’s participation, what should have happened and what should not have happened.  I know for some it was very disappointing and very negative.  But to me, as a 62-year old Afghan woman, it was a very different perspective.  I have seen and been a part of women’s struggle in this country from the day when women were told not to wear their chadaris until the moment when women were selected as Cabinet members; from when women were enrolling in universities to when women were becoming doctors, engineers, etc.

This jirga was not a failure.  It was not a complete success but it was definitely not a failure.  I would hate to believe (or if the world believes, I would like to correct) that the Afghan women who are a part of the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) [AWN held a “pre-jerga” for women which I attended, to talk about women’s participation] had nothing to do with the number of women participants in the jirga and that if it wasn’t for Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton, women’s participation would not have happened.  I am not saying that Mrs. Clinton’s suggestion didn’t have any effect because I am sure it did and on behalf of all of us, I thank her.  However all of us in this city worked too hard to be disregarded like this!

Comments suggesting that women’s participation was primarily the result of Mrs. Clinton, do not help the Afghan women, or their unity, or their cause…..  Don’t forget that this is Afghanistan.  We are the same sisters, mothers, wives and daughters who were looked upon in the first jirga as lepers.  Then, we were not acknowledged, looked at, listened to, let alone talked to. Let’s not compare Afghanistan with the rest of the world but rather to Afghanistan of 10 years, 8 years or 7 years ago.

Our battles and struggles are still ahead of all of us; we need to do a lot of work; unifying our sisters should be our number one priority.  I saw things from our so-called sisters who were against each other that were unbelievable.  We need to learn to support each other first.  We have a lot of work ahead of us.  This peace jirga was really what the people of Afghanistan want. And they don’t want to fight anymore.  They don’t want to die in the hands of the national army, international militaries, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or each other.  They want to live.

Of course there was a lot that was not accomplished…. That is because we women are not united.  We all think “I know better; what does she know?; who does she think she is?”.  Let’s take it one step at a time .. hopefully forward!


Peggy’s commentary:

This last was an ugly phenomenon that I saw and also heard about—how Afghan women are often putting each other down, refusing to participate if “she” was going to be involved, etc. If women could unite their efforts, or at least not denigrate the efforts of others, change for women would happen much more quickly.  Like with the ethnic antagonisms, I see hope for change with the young people who identify as Afghans first rather than their ethnic identity and with young women who see the female rivalry as a barrier to the progress for women that they want to see.

The other issue is about the rapidity of the changes we want to see. Of course we want all women worldwide to have the freedom and an economic situation that can help us reach our full potential as human beings. But I have seen in Afghanistan and other places, how well thought out, carefully strategized, person to person, comprehensively based efforts (which of course all take time) toward this goal can have a deeper and longer lasting effect as it engages the wider society. One needs to look at Afghanistan with a long term view.

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