Today was the first of the official three-day period of national mourning following the death of the Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former President of Afghanistan and, until meeting his untimely end, chairman of the country’s High Peace Council. While there was no war or fighting going on the streets, there was nothing that could be described as peace either.
Leaving my home in Kabul this morning, the streets were not as crowded as usual, but were full of armed men. They were shouting at each other and at every pedestrian who ventured near the black- windowed bullet-proof vehicles carrying high-ranking officials to Rabbani’s funeral. On one of the main roads in the Qalai Fatullah section of Kabul, a group of armed uniformed soldiers beat a taxi driver who subsequently caused an accident while running away in panic.
In the wake of Rabbani’s assassination, almost every political voice in Afghanistan has claimed that peace is no longer possible. I, however, as a young Afghan woman who is tired of the patriarchy and power struggles in this country, believe that peace is always possible — but we need to move from political deal-making towards a citizen-led national dialogue for peace building.
That dialogue needs to begin with healing the open wounds resulting from years of civil war and Taliban oppression. The grievances caused by the enormous suffering of so many Afghans during those years were never adequately addressed. Leaving the wounds to fester throughout the last decade has contributed to deepening distrust and added fresh wounds alongside these open sores. Until Afghans come together, from all walks of life, from every province and village to admit their responsibility in creating injustice and seek forgiveness, Afghanistan will not be peaceful. Our wounds will continue to fester while our neighbors turn us against each other and against our country.
Afghan women are the untapped and unexplored power that can facilitate this healing process. Afghan women have not waged civil wars or oppressed their people. Instead, they became widows of a war they never wanted, took responsibility for the family and children, and used the Afghan custom of Nanawati to end animosity between tribes. If Afghan women were provided the opportunity to lead a national dialogue, they could bring people together in a way that men haven’t done. My experience in working and dealing with Afghan women is that we have better access and dialog even among disputing tribes, better information on the causes of conflict. Afghan women are more willing to end the violence because we have more to lose in wars than anyone else.
Women in Afghanistan had to fight to have representation in the High Peace Council. They have been able to make headway where the men could not. For example, some of the women at High Peace Council were able to make contacts with some of the families of one of the armed opposition groups and were welcomed in their homes. Not one of the men in the High Peace Council has been able to enter the house of an armed opposition group commander.
I am sure the world remembers how South African women went around the country uniting every South African in favor of their new Constitution at the end of apartheid. It was actually the South African women who prevented a blood bath by giving everyone a voice during the Constitution-making process.
An opportunity for Afghan women could mean an opportunity for peace.
Wazhma Frogh is a gender and development specialist and human rights activist and recipient of the 2009 International Woman of Courage Award Afghanistan.