Coverage on Afghan women who have traveled the distance to be part of the Bonn Conference in Germany this week did show up short as global media placed more attention on international politics instead of participation for the women who wanted to discuss on-the-ground security needs.
In spite of this, the women who came to Bonn to communicate their needs stayed firm in their position. The issues for them are continuing to concern the women in efforts to bring women to the decision making table as they seek a ‘solution-based' approaches to the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. troops in the unstable region set for late 2014.
“Today, the international community sends a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: We will not abandon you. We stay at your side,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during the wrap-up at Monday's one-day conference session.
It's uncertain whether or not the government sponsored Afghan women's delegation, or the additional ten women from AWN – Afghan Women's Network hosted by CARE International who traveled far to participate during the conference believed Foreign Minister Westerwelle's statement, but all hope for increased awareness on the issues facing women and their families in the shifting political arena belong to Afghanistan's future.
AWN – Afghan Women's Network is the largest and most prominent network of women's organizations in Afghanistan with over 80 member organizations and thousands of individual members.
Opening her talk at the December 5 opening session, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton included the topic of Afghanistan's women from the start. “I want to recognize a number of the women leaders who are here from Afghanistan,” she said. “I met with them and with representatives of Afghan civil society this morning and just now because I am convinced that they have a crucial role to play in the future of Afghanistan, and in particular the peace and reconciliation process. Women and civil society have achieved considerable progress over the last 10 years, and we don't want anything that we agree to or do to undermine that progress or to turn the clock back on human rights for women and men.”
The AWN delegation was set to meet with officials, policy makers and representatives, as well as members of all the media who came to Bonn. Security issues in Afghanistan have been on the top agenda, especially as sectarian violence from suicide bombers killed almost 60 people, including women and children, who were attending ‘Ashura' worship services at three separate Shi'ite shrines located in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif, on Tuesday December 6 less than 24 hours after the end of the Bonn Conference. A Sunni Pakistani extremist group has taken the blame for the series of suicide bombs that hit on Shi'ite Islam's most holy day.
“Afghan women have the right, the capacity, and the desire to participate in crafting Afghanistan's future, defining the terms of transition, and shaping the peace process,” reminded the AWN in an October 6 position paper release.
Following the official boycott by Pakistan from the conference, sparked by a November U.S. NATO drone airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the eastern border of Afghanistan, the conference talks substantially lowered their level of expectations as high-level parties, including the Taliban, did not make it to the discussion table.
Whether or not the larger international community or the Special Representatives who came to attend the conference at Bonn agree completely, the women were visible as they inched their way forward through their efforts.
“Despite many positive advancements in Afghan women's lives over the past ten years, progress remains fragile and at times limited to rhetoric. There have been countless numbers of resolutions, laws, policies, action plans and strategies to empower the women of Afghanistan, but the track record for their implementation remains appalling,” said the AWN recently. “Transition should originate from a citizen-led vision in which the women and men of Afghanistan take responsibility for the solutions that will define a better future for their country.”