Cablegate: Women Activists Push for Inclusion In

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1. (SBU) Summary: Representatives from the Afghan Women's
Network met February 23 with Masoom Stanekzai, the Afghan
government's current lead on reintegration efforts, at his
invitation, to voice their concerns over GIRoA's
reintegration and reconciliation plans. Stanekzai opened the
meeting by explaining GIRoA's reintegration efforts, the
difference between reintegration and reconciliation, GIRoA's
way forward in developing a reintegration program and
soliciting their input. The group called for women's
participation in all negotiations, and requested additional
guarantees that women's rights and participation in society
will be protected as discussions move forward. They also
briefly addressed concerns that non-Pashtun ethnic groups
will not be protected, and that development projects will
focus too heavily on the south. Stanekzai was receptive to
the women's concerns and requested further input in the form
of a two-page paper. The meeting was a positive initial step
in improving coordination between the government and civil
society on reconciliation and reintegration. The Embassy
will continue to support civil society and press the
government to listen to and address their concerns. End

More Than Just a Seat at the Table

2. (SBU) Eight members of the Afghan Women's Network (AWN),
a civil society organization with 70 women's NGOs and 3000
individual women activist members, met with Masoom Stanekzai
at his request to understand GIRoA's reintegration policy and
way forward on developing a reintegration program. They
pushed for the inclusion of women in the reintegration and
reconciliation process. The assembled AWN representatives,
including former Minister of Women's Affairs candidate
Palwasha Hassan and 2007 International Women of Courage Award
winner Mary Akrami, told Stanekzai they wanted transparent
negotiations, with no "behind the curtains" deals. In
particular, the women sought an equal and active role
throughout the planning and implementation process. They
judged women's role in government over the last eight years
as only symbolic, and implored Stanekzai to involve them
constructively in the peace process.

Constitutional Rights Not Enough

3. (SBU) Stanekzai assured the AWN representatives that the
constitution would protect women's rights throughout the
reintegration and reconciliation process. However, the women
were skeptical that the constitution alone offers sufficient
protection. They pointed to the limited political power
women currently wield, including the lack of high-level
government positions, as evidence that more needs to be done
to protect and promote women's rights. The women were
particularly concerned that former Taliban and Hezb-e Islami
would influence the government to enforce their
interpretations of Shari'a law. The conversation grew
increasingly animated as the women asked what would prevent a
future government from closing girls schools, limiting
women's employment opportunities, and forcing women back
behind closed doors. The women told Stanekzai the government
needs to make a strong statement on their commitment to
protecting women's rights.

4. (SBU) The AWN representatives voiced particular concern
that former Taliban would be appointed or elected to
high-level government positions. Stanekzai brushed over a
question on what mechanism would prevent Taliban from joining
the government as MPs or in other influential roles.
However, in a February 3 press conference he told journalists
that the Afghan government is "open and transparent," and
that once former opposition members have accepted the
constitution they can become "officials, politicians, even

Concern for Minorities

5. (SBU) As leaders among civil society activists, the AWN
representatives took the opportunity to voice broader
reintegration concerns in addition to the role of women.
They urged Stanekzai and his reintegration team to think
about how former Taliban will live and work alongside
non-Pashtuns. The women also shared a frequent complaint
from civil society that reintegration and reconciliation
efforts, which will focus on the south, will further tip the

KABUL 00000698 002 OF 002

balance of development resources and efforts away from the
safer provinces in the central and northern regions.

Government Receptive, Now Need Action

6. (SBU) Stanekzai was receptive to AWN's concerns, and
began the meeting by telling the collected interlocutors that
he intended the meeting to be the beginning of a longer
discussion. He noted that some Afghans believe women oppose
reconciliation, and said the dialogue would prove that women
in Afghanistan are supporting the process. This comment
could reflect a disconnect between Stanekzai and civil
society; civil society is engaging in discussions not to
prove their support, but to play a decision-making role in
the process. Stanekzai requested the group submit a two-page
paper summarizing their concerns and proposed input for the
reintegration process, which his team would take into
consideration alongside the Ministries' papers (Reftel) as
they formulate the reintegration program.

7. (SBU) There is still need for the Afghan government to
more clearly define its way ahead in developing and
implementing reintegration and reconciliation efforts. The
AWN representatives expressed their concern to Stanekzai that
the Peace Jirga would be a constitutional Loya Jirga,
allowing the opposition to bring amendments limiting women's
rights to the constitution. Stanekzai reassured them it
would be a Peace Jirga, not a Loya Jirga, but the group
insisted that President Karzai had referred to it as a Loya
Jirga several times. In a follow-on meeting with AWN
representatives and Embassy officers, the women again asked
whether reintegration and reconciliation are one process. A
number of concerns they addressed in their meeting with
Stanekzai were more relevant to the reconciliation process.
The differences between reintegration and reconciliation, and
whether there will be a joint or separate policies, are not
yet clear to the Afghan public.

Embassy Engagement and Support

8. (SBU) While numerous civil society organizations have
voiced legitimate concerns to the Embassy about
reconciliation and reintegration, none has been as organized
and proactive as AWN. AWN has held regular meetings with
women activists since the London Conference, has written
documents articulating their concerns, and has plans to reach
out to additional Embassies, ISAF, government ministries, and
President Karzai. AWN representatives are appreciative of,
and have requested, additional Embassy and international
support in directing attention to women's issues, but are
determined to remain in the lead on conversations with the
government. AWN's meeting with Stanekzai was a positive
first step towards greater cooperation between the government
and civil society. However, AWN is unlikely to accept that
submitting a two-page paper on their views suffices; rather,
they rightfully expect women to be involved in the
negotiating process.

9. (SBU) The Embassy has been actively engaging both civil
society and the government to facilitate dialogue on
reintegration and reconciliation. A recent Embassy dinner
which brought together Minister Stanekzai, IDLG Director
Popal, AIHRC, and USIP representatives will hopefully serve
as a springboard for further cooperation. Stanekzai's
meeting with AWN is evidence that our repeated message to the
government that they must not cut civil society and women out
of the reintegration and reconciliation planning process is
starting to be heard. SRAP Senior Advisors Rina Amiri and
Barnett Rubin's discussion of civil society's role in
reintegration and reconciliation during a recent string of
meetings with senior Afghan government officials highlighted
to the Afghan government the extreme importance the USG
places on this issue. The Embassy will continue to work with
civil society and the government to ensure that they are
sharing information and responding to each others' concerns.


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