WPSN-C spoke with Nooria Sultani, a Women’s Regional Network associate member from Afghanistan. She was born and raised in Afghanistan, and has been an active member of the Women’s Regional Network for more than two years. WPSN-C had the opportunity to discuss the different objectives and outcomes of the network within Afghanistan from recent years. We were excited to speak with her about her experiences working within the network pertaining to the challenges and triumphs they have experienced over time.
Can you please briefly outline how the WRN works?
WRN amplifies the voices of unheard, marginalized women, and together addresses the interlinked issues of peace and security, justice and governance and growing militarization in South Asia. To this end, WRN connects women peace advocates, is committed to working collectively within and across national borders in an open, respectful, learning environment. WRN presents an effective flexible platform for collaborating on research and analysis, joint advocacy and representation, and the implementation of well-designed initiatives. WRN develops and delivers specific advocacy campaigns to ensure that grassroots women’s concerns and their voices directly shape political discourse, policy development and program implementation
Women’s Regional Network is a platform that connects women peace advocates, mostly in South Asia, through collaborative measures. It seeks to build relationships and networks that work towards addressing different gaps between policy objectives and ground level challenges. Through the implementation of the bottom-up approach, it encourages local participation within policy creation process.
How do you integrate the voices of women from different regions into policy discourse and what are your greatest challenges in achieving this objective?
In Afghanistan for example, inclusivity is very vital, it is important to integrate the voices of women from different regions and also ethnic groups into policy creation dialogue. Through the bottom-up approach local participation is encouraged because it creates a space in which women can share their experiences and challenges irrespective of region or ethnicity. This directly influences the objectives that are deemed important based on local advocacy through community based conversations. The ground level challenges are addressed by policy makers, however the civil society plays a tremendous role in directing the policy creation processes especially within war torn countries.
In a country that has experienced more than 40 years of war, there are numerous drawbacks and challenges. The drawback that we were confronted with at the national level was deeply embedded in the history of conflict and insecurity that women have faced over the decades. The challenge was encouraging and creating safe space for women to who had been banned for decades from participating into public life. The most visible challenges are the cultural and language barriers that often limit the participation of women in the most remote areas. At the regional level the language barrier plays the most important role while within a country the lack of time commitments based on pro-bono services is evident. The other major challenge is the security condition of the country which causes most of the qualified women to leave the country. It poses a great challenge in highlighting the issues faced by most women in remote areas within the policy creation circles.
What strategies have been incorporated in providing safe spaces for women in participating in policy creation in Afghanistan?
In 2015 Afghanistan launched its first National Action Plan, it was developed to address the challenges women face in the aftermath of war and conflict in Afghanistan. In the constitution, it provides laws that are put in place to integrate women back into the public sphere, however implementation is not practical. The constitution does provide a good starting point in recognizing that women need safe spaces to speak openly about the burden they face on a day to day basis, however civil society engagement in these processes are rarely addressed. On another note, after the war the government took the initiative in working with women who had been peace activists. There was a very limited number of peace activists within the country, so the government negotiated with women who were active civil society members in order to actively participate within peace initiatives through the WRN peace roster.
What has inspired your passion to advocate for women’s issues in Afghanistan?
As a teenager, simply walking down the street exposed me to the male gaze. It was the constant harassment, which pushed me to do something, anything that would ensure that someone else wouldn’t experience the same humiliation I grew to confront each time I walked down the street. I think living in a country that poses the greatest challenge to your freedom, pushes you to think not only about yourself but your sisters as well, whom you share similar struggles with. It created a great sense of anger and rebellion in me, which has influenced my career path and what I value as a women. I’ve faced many challenges but I wouldn’t say I have any ounce of cynicism in me, there are moments of great despair and but I am hopeful in the future of Afghanistan. The Women’s regional network has motivated me to be part of a small change while striving for a greater change. While I do feel hopeless at times, I refuse to be demotivated.
What are your hopes for WRN in the next 5-10 years?
I am hopeful for the future of WRN. Since it was created, it has worked tremendously in bridging the gap between the new generation and the experts within policy discourse. It has created an effective and flexible platform for knowledge transfer that fosters more collaboration on research and analysis, joint advocacy and representation, and the implementation of well-designed initiatives. We recently started working in Sri Lanka and this is only the beginning of the great work that women in this region will accomplish. When I look to the future I have no option but to be hopeful for the growth that I’ve been fortunate enough to observe and to play a role in.
Interview compiled by Christine Izere, a student at the University of Ottawa, currently in her final year in International Development and Globalization.