On June 17, 2010 the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a panel discussion to examine women's rights and the role of women in the governance of Afghanistan. The panel was moderated by Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Najla Ayubi, human rights activist and lawyer associated with the Organization of Strategic Studies and Research, spoke on the reconciliation and reintegration process and women's rights in Afghanistan. Ayubi highlighted two main issues that limit progress for women's rights in the country. First, Afghan women are still fundamentally excluded from developing policy at top levels. Second, there was significant confusion over the process of the country's National Consultative Peace Jirga, and the women involved in the peace jirga never had a chance to speak out. Furthermore, Ayubi stressed the importance of improving women's involvement in and awareness of the justice system, citing how 80% of the justice system in Afghanistan is informal and predominantly rural with the presence of women largely lacking.

Ayubi also discussed the role of the Taliban, noting that while more moderate Taliban members have already been involved with the government, more extreme Taliban members still resort to violence. Additionally, Ayubi stressed the need for increased accountability within all levels of the justice system. Ayubi concluded by saying that the prospects for sustainable peace are low if the government does not consult women's civil society groups and that there is a need for greater women's participation and representation at both the top level of governance and the grassroots level.

Huria Samira Hamidi, of the Afghan Women's Network, explained the role of women inside the peace jirga. Hamidi pointed out how the Afghan government listens to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recommendations, but that in spite of women's involvement in the peace jirga and other assemblies, the Afghan government does not take Afghan women seriously. Hamidi also asserted that while the Afghan government has assured that it will address women's rights, it has not been transparent in how it plans to use the money for reconciliation to benefit women and women's issues. She supported this claim by citing how the government has been ambiguous on women's involvement in the resource allocation of aid and indicating that the Afghan government only allows women to be involved in the decision-making process to symbolically represent their commitment to women's empowerment.

In her discussion of the international community, Hamidi indicated that international donors often choose to work with "favorites" in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Hamidi pointed out that Afghanistan has thirty-four provinces that need help with state-building. She also discussed how the Afghan government and the international community are not consistent in their strategy, citing how the Afghan government announced reconciliation at the same time a military operation was planned in Kandahar. Hamidi concluded by noting how reform and reconciliation in Afghanistan are about changing attitudes towards women and towards the building of the country.

By Avideh Mayville, Middle East Program
Haleh Esfandiari, Middle East Program