Thursday, November 16, 2006
Impact of conflict on women and children - Part II
Yesterday I went on mission again, this time to the isolated province of Ghor. I had a series of meetings with provincial government officials, including the Governor and the Chief Prosecutor, and with the Commander of the Provincial Reconstruction team (the military team responsible for security and reconstruction, in this case led by the Lithuaniuns with contingents from Iceland, Denmark and Croatia). The flight to Chegcharan, the provincial capital, is amazingly scenic with seemingly endless stretches of desertous and mountainous terrain revealing how beautiful and varied a limited palette of brown can be. Now that the mountians are covered in snow it is even more striking. But all that stark beauty is the result of drought and under-development so when you land the picture shifts from impressive beauty to heart-breaking poverty and deprivation. Those stunning white peaks, in reality, mean the beginning of the harsh winter which will cut off some of the more remote districts from the provincial centre. If winterization and drought relief assistance hasn't already reached people in those districts it could be prevented from getting there by the next snow fall. But on this trip my focus was not on economic and social rights, I was following up on a "jihad against corruption" which has been launched by the Attorney General of Afghanistan. The provincial prosecutor has been directed to begin investigations into a variety of allegations against local officials and local illegal armed commanders. He asked for my help, and this is the second time I've visited him to try and advise him on how to go about this process without putting himself or his staff into unecessary danger. This time he was particularly disconsolate and I think I will need to go more often and stay longer if I am going to be of real help to him. Thank goodness for the friendly Lithuanians, I'll plan a longer stay in January and look forward to more "opps tra la la". But the strongest impression left with me from this visit was of a man who came to me at the end of my time at the Prosecutor's office appealing for my help to recover his daughter who was allegedly kidnapped by a local commander several years ago when she was 5 years old. Again, I was struck by the degree to which women and children in Afghanistan are suffering as a result of conflicts which are led by men. Girl children suffer perhaps the most of all. This man stood in front of me in tears, having thrown off his turban to show me his shaven head in a gesture of deep despair. I asked the Chief Prosecutor what he had done to investigate the case, he told me that he had written to the Commander concerned but, not surprisingly, had recieved no repsonse. He told me that the police could not do anything etiher. I took the documents about the case from the distraught father and left with a heavy heart. I have no idea where this girl is now, nor what condition she is in. I will make every effort I can to locate her and use what little influence I have to return her to her family, but it is not a case that I can feel very optimistic about. In a meeting recently to discuss reconciliation efforts between two tribes in conflict I raised the issues of the need to involve women and children in reconciliation processes. As it goes here traditionally, the reconciliation processes involve only men, and only relatively powerful and influential men at that. The women and children, who obviously experience violent conflict in very different ways to the men, are never heard. Their voices and their experiences are absent from the 'mediation table'. I'm convinced that as long as those voices and those perspectives are not included in the peace building process, the process will not be successful. But when I raised this issue, I was told that the possibility simply does not exist. I won't give up, at the very least there are possibilities to involve women and children in the next stage of peace building, which will be the reconstruction and development projects that will hopefully be introduced into these divided communities. But I feel as though this point is so obvious that I can't believe others really expect a "peace process" dominated by men to work. Those men are weighing up different options, considering acceptable and unacceptable trade-offs. Surely it doesn't take an expert in conflict resolution to work out that what may be an acceptable trade-off to them might not be to the women and children who suffer as a direct result.