The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Gender Empowerment – Simply Relegated

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 6, 2010

The progression towards troop withdrawals from Afghanistan was welcoming until TIME magazine released an article, ‘Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban,’ depicting the insecurities of Afghani women to the withdrawal of foreign troops. Extensive efforts, supported by the Afghanistan authorities, the UN and the United States of America (US) have been undertaken to incorporate Afghani women into post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction initiatives. Although the constitution guarantees this and Afghani women are perceived to have visibility in the public domain, the local reality of abuse and threats experienced by Afghani women generally persists.

It is said that such persecution towards women persists due to the Taliban and other conservative elements in ‘governance’ circles, which are inimical to women rights and empowerment in Afghanistan. These elements are seen to have gained further traction with Afghanistan’s President Karzai’s decision to negotiate with the Taliban on their role in future national structures. This was reflected in the  recent Peace Jirga in June 2010, which Karzai saw as the only means of moving forward to achieve peace in Afghanistan. In response to the violence and threats experienced by women, President Karzai contemplated:-

“if he had any right to talk about human rights when so many were dying. ‘He essentially asked …what is more important, protecting the right of a girl to go to school or saving her life?’”

This disjunct between the security and development of women and that of the nation as a whole is not unique to President Karzai, as the

US’ foreign policy echoes this:

“most people’s thoughts, including, Barack Obama’s administration, are turning to some sort of negotiated settlement with the insurgents…including dropping efforts for women to be given a more equal place in Afghan society.”

In addition to reflecting a lack of commitment towards ensuring accountability of those who perpetrate violence against girls and women, the approach undermines the rationality that the UN promulgates through its agencies to states. The rationality is that the empowerment of women can support sustainable peace and security, which is conducive for long-term development.

This disjunct extends to development policies in Asia. For instance, there has been insufficient performance in achieving Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – Gender Equality and Empowerment. The lack of women’s participation in the workforce across the Asia-Pacific costs the region an estimated USD89 billion a year. Women in the region are also more vulnerable to poverty than men, due to contraints in gaining access to economic opportunities. These include discriminatory attitudes that restrict their mobility, limit employment choices and hinder control over assets.

Another important aspect, linking gender empowerment in development and security is women’s traditional role in the household. Since it is unlikely that men will assume this role in the near future, women remain dominant in the social reproduction sector. This sector forms the social fabric of a nation, involving rebuilding of the population, societies and communities, where women play an essential economic, logistical and social support role. As such, failing to empower women in security and development compromises the strength of these societal foundations. This consequently reduces societal ability to ease tensions and prevent future prevalence of conflict or violence.

Abstaining from mainstreaming gender into the security discourse has not reduced the prevalence of conflict in Asia. Hence, it is not a question of whether resources should be devoted to the empowerment of women or security for all. Rather devoting resources to the former will foster the latter. The question that remains, however, is how can the state ensure that development is effectively achieved in the long run, while incoporating elements that have the potential to inflict violence on girls and women?


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