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Afghan Women and the Security Transition, 2012-2014

March 26 2015
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This blog is a translation of an earlier blog by Mohammad Ehsan Saadat, Research Project Manager at APPRO, available from: http://appro.org.af/blog/. This and the previous blog are based on a review of five monitoring reports on the impact of the security transition on women. The last of these reports, Cycle 5, is due for release in early April 2014.

 

The transition of security responsibilities from the international forces to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), completed by the end of 2014, has been at the center of the discourse on the future of Afghanistan during its “transformational decade” starting in 2015. The handover of security responsibilities to ANSF raised numerous questions in the minds of ordinary citizens, government officials, and international stakeholders. This blog is an overview of the impact of the transition process since 2011 on Afghan women, based on five rounds of monitoring in 12 provinces in Afghanistan.

 

The monitoring commenced in September 2012 with “Monitoring Women’s Security in Transition”, a partnership between APPRO, Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), and Cordaid and funded by Cordaid. The monitoring was designed to assess the likely impact of security transition on the lives of Afghan women in the following areas:

– Overall Security

– Mobility and Access to Public Life

– Access to Services (Health and Education)

– Access to Justice

– Violence Against Women

– Women in Politics (Peace Process, Bilateral Security Agreement, Elections)

 

Each of the above areas was monitored through a dedicated composite indicator based on qualitative and quantitative data collected during site visits and data from secondary sources. Data were collected from 12 provinces during five rounds of monitoring starting in September 2012 and ending in December 2014. The sites of monitoring were: Badakhshan, Balkh, Bamyan, Helmand, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunduz, Laghman, Nangarhar, Parwan, and Samangan. The findings from the analysis of the field data and secondary sources were used to generate focus and support for advocacy and promotion of women’s rights and needs during and after the security transition.

 

A number of key events occurred during the transition, with significant impacts on the perceptions of security by women and men. The delay in signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the prospect of reduced international aid for Afghanistan in post-2014, election-related disputes, economic downturn due to uncertainty caused by reduced international aid and investment, heightened insecurity in many provinces throughout the country, significant loss of employment for men and women in many sectors, increase in reported cases of violence against women, persistent and systematic administrative corruption including in formal justice, heightened criminality, and the continued delay in appointing a Cabinet. However, despite these challenges the security transition process was completed with ANSF seemingly able to hold its own.

 

The finding from monitoring and related studies by APPRO show that the transfer of the security responsibilities to ANSF has had negative and positive impacts on the lives of Afghan women. These impacts are summarized below, using the composite indicators.

 

1. Overall Security:

During the 2.5 years since September 2012 the security situation deteriorated or improved in some of the provinces while it remained unchanged in others. Helmand, Nangarhar, Kunduz, Bamyan, Parwan, Kabul, Badakhshan, and Herat experienced a general deterioration while improvements became evident in Kandahar and Laghman. In Samangan and Laghman the security situation deteriorated around May 2014, soon after the transition, but had improved by the time of the fifth round of monitoring during October to December 2014. Interview data suggest that the improvements in Kandahar and Laghman may be attributed in part to the fact that most of the armed opposition groups (AOGs) had focused their efforts on the northern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Uniquely, in Laghman, the improvement in security appears to have been the product of close cooperation between the community and ANSF including the Afghan Local Police (ALP, also known as the Arbaki).

 

With some exceptions, the general sentiment about the performance of ANSF after the transition has been largely positive. To a significant extent, ANSF seems to have managed to secure the public’s confidence and trust in maintaining security and attending to the public’s needs, particularly around the times of the two rounds of presidential elections in April and June 2014. There are concerns, however, that ANSF lacks facilities and equipment to adequately fulfill its role. There are also concerns about the role of ALP, viewed negatively in all but a few provinces such as Laghman.

 

2. Access to Work and Public Life:

The departure of international security forces and the significant reductions in development aid funding have resulted in major job losses due, in part, to the elimination of demand for auxiliary services by the provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) and international military compounds around the country. Income generating projects such as vocational training have also diminished significantly since the transition. Many women who worked in auxiliary services or attended vocational training or literacy programs are no longer able to do so, due to the departure of international security forces and the closure of numerous women-centered projects.

 

The political crisis and uncertainty following the presidential elections were resolved with the inauguration of the new government, but re-emerged due to the delay in a Cabinet being appointed. Numerous national and international investors appear unwilling to invest, and create jobs, due to the continued uncertainty. The increases in the reported cases of violence against women, general criminality, displacement of impoverished families, and drug addiction are attributed by many to heightened levels of unemployment among men, women, and youth. Also significant has been the freeze by governmental entities on recruitment, depriving many young educated Afghans, particularly women, from securing employment.

 

3. Access to Services (Education and Health):

The transition does not appear to have had significant impacts on access to education and health. However, there have been some changes in terms of access since the beginning of 2013 as follows:

     Education: Families continue sending their children to school despite changes in security conditions. In some cases the willingness to send girls to school has increased since the transition and the departure of international military forces from some communities. However, the recent increase in criminality, long distances to schools in many communities, shortage of female teachers, and a lack of textbooks continue to present challenges in access to education by children, particularly girls. The reduction in development aid and education projects has resulted in the closure of a number of schools, particularly in remote areas. In Kunduz, Helmand, Nangarhar and Parwan, absenteeism of schoolgirls has increased due mainly to the deterioration in general security conditions and heightened criminality including kidnapping of young children.

     Public health: Lack of medicine, inappropriate treatment of patients by health workers, administrative corruption within health facilities, overcrowded health facilities, and long distances to health clinics have been exacerbated with the closure of many health facilities staffed by international care providers. One of the positive outcomes of the security transition has been the removal of checkpoints and road blocks set up by the international security forces, allowing for easier access and generating more willingness by many families to go to health facilities.

 

4. Access to Justice:

Awareness of basic legal rights by the public and use of the formal justice system have increased substantially since 2001. However, the transition and the persistent political crisis have discouraged many, particularly women, from exercising their legal rights or use the formal justice system. Women’s access to justice has decreased in some provinces since the transition also because of the increase in administrative corruption in judicial institutions and the closure of some of the legal assistance organizations.

 

It is notable that for a short period of time after the inauguration of the new government, corrupt justice officials in some provinces such as Nangarhar appeared hesitant to continue their corrupt practices while in other provinces such as Bamyan it was alleged that justice officials had intensified their extortive practices in anticipation of a tougher approach to official corruption by the new government. Many respondents also report that judges and prosecutors appear to be more respectful toward the complainants and the accused.

 

With the establishment of family response units in the Afghan National Police and women affairs departments, more women are willing to resolve their issues through the formal justice system. More generally, however, the vast majority of legal cases involving women in rural areas continue to be resolved by community elders and through local councils.

 

5. Violence against Women:

There have been significant increases in the reported case of violence against women in the 2-3 years leading up to the security transition. The following factors are said to have contributed to the increase in violence against women:

– Women’s increased awareness of basic rights, and attempts to exercise them.

– Women’s increased access to formal justice, and attempts to exercise it.

– Adverse reaction by many men to women wishing to exercise their legal rights.

– High levels of unemployment, often resulting in domestic disputes and violence against women.

– Increased narcotics use among men

 

Physical and verbal violence, forced and early marriages, polygamy, depriving women of their inheritance, and divorce initiated unilaterally by men are among the types of violence to which women are subjected. Many respondents state that there have been an increase in suicide and self-emollition cases in the last 4-5 years.

 

There appears to be no direct relationship between the transition and the increased levels of violence against women. However, since the departure of the international security forces there has been a general reduction in programs and projects focused on women’s rights and women’s access to formal justice including access to female attorneys. At the same time, impunity for male women’s rights offenders has discouraged many women from pursuing their cases through the formal justice system, particularly since the additional protection provided by women-centered programs and projects has been significantly diminished since the transition. Throughout the provinces, many women attribute the increase in violence against women in part to a general deterioration in the economic conditions with large numbers of men and women having lost their jobs.

 

6. Women and Peace:

Women are interested in peace and want reconciliation with the armed opposite groups but not at the expense of rolling back the many achievements in women rights since 2001. Women are worried that they may be deprived of education and employment and have limited access to basic services such as health as a result of peace being negotiated with some or all AOGs.

 

Women also believe that they could play a major role in the peace process by, for example, raising children based on values of peace and tolerance and engaging with the wives, mothers, and daughters of the insurgents about peace.

 

Conclusion:

The key concern for the vast majority of those engaged in this monitoring project since September 2012 appears to be not the transition specifically but the high level of uncertainty caused by the delay in the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement, the inconclusive presidential elections, increase in lawlessness and criminality, and the ongoing dispute over the appointment of the new Cabinet. These developments, combined with the diminished levels of development aid and the departure of many job and service providing international civil society organizations, have made Afghan women and men pessimistic about the future for the country and, at best, cautious about their own prospects.

 

For more information, see the monitoring reports on the security transition process and its effects on women at: http://appro.org.af/publications/

 

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