Over the course of nine years, peace talks were held in Afghanistan 23 times. Women were in the room only twice.
Women are often the first to feel the effects of extremism, conflict and war, but they are notably absent from peace tables around the world. Despite the foundational opportunities they could have to write their equality into policy during constitution rewrites, they’re often not a large share of drafters. Despite their leadership in civil society, their efforts too often go unrewarded and unrecognized by formal governments. And in the face of a flood of concrete data that proves that their presence in peace-making improves success for entire nations, they’re still missing from critical conversations about paths forward in countries around the world.
In Afghanistan, the presence of women in peace talks could not be more pivotal. Afghan women were explicitly targeted by the Taliban and continue to be under siege by extremist groups in the region. Activists on the ground have made major gains, but they remain fragile—and leaders are wary of what lies ahead.
Jamille Bigio, a senior fellow for women and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Rachel Vogelstein, the Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow at the council and director of its Women and Foreign Policy program, explained why women should be at the table—”not simply as a matter of fairness, but as a strategic imperative”—in an opinion piece published in USA Today.
Women and girls have made notable progress since the fall of the Taliban, which adheres to a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in which women are considered second-class citizens. Under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, Afghan women were banned from schools and work, faced public beatings and executions, and endured severe restrictions on their movement. Today, women and girls enjoy more opportunity to attend school and participate in political and economic life.
However, these gains have not translated into opportunities for women to participate in the peace process. In 23 rounds of peace talks between 2005 and 2014, women were at the table on only two occasions. When officials from over 25 countries recently gathered for the Kabul Process, an Afghan-led peace conference, the room was overwhelmingly filled with men. If the conference is at all indicative of what future negotiations will look like, Afghan leaders should rethink their approach and pursue instead a proven strategy to improve the chances for peace: the participation of women.
In a new interactive report, we present in-depth case studies and an index tracking women in formal roles in peace processes from 1990 to the present. This and other research suggests that including women in peace processes advances security, and that their participation in negotiations makes the resulting agreement 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.