Solidarity, Strength and Substance: Women’s Political Participation in Afghanistan

Authored by: Anna Larson, Noah Coburn

Categories: Human Rights, National Action Plans, Peace Support Operations
Sub-Categories: Economic Recovery, National Action Plans, Peacemaking, Political Transitions, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
Country: Afghanistan
Region: South and Central Asia
Year: 2020
Citation: Larson, Anna and Noah Coburn. "Solidarity, Strength and Substance: Women’s Political Participation in Afghanistan." The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. October 2020.

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Executive Summary

The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) supported by UN Women Afghanistan, launched a research paper titled: “Solidarity, Strength and Substance: Women’s Political Participation in Afghanistan” in a virtual event on 5 October 2020. The paper explores how Afghan women strategise around institutional barriers and identifies which tools are most effective in promoting women’s participation and substantive influence. This is the second research paper of a series of 4 on key topics concerning women’s rights and gender in Afghanistan part of the AREU and UN Women Afghanistan partnership.

This research-based paper analyses three formal mechanisms used for promoting women’s involvement in the public domain such as elections, affirmative action in the public sector and education. In the past one decade, all these have enticed substantial attention of the government and international community.

The research findings indicate that formal mechanisms are limited as a means to promote women’s influence without supporting informal strategies, including building professional relationships and networks of trust, surrounding oneself with supportive men and women at home and work and negotiating in a way that strengthens relationships between men and women. The paper suggests that all of these will help with enhancing the transformative power of the formal institutions of suffrage affirmative action and education.

The paper argues that in Afghanistan men make decisions, women are usually absent from the key decision-making processes. This commonly felt public-sphere narrative is reflected in stories that women tell of being executed from policy meetings, overlooked for promotion, harassed at work, told whom to vote for, and side-lined from the gatherings at home where critical family issues are discussed.

The paper also discusses how Afghan women strategise around institutional barriers and with ascertaining certain effective tools to promote women’s political participation and substantive influence, with special focus on policy and service provision in the public domain. The paper is based on over 80 interviews and focus group discussions in four Afghan provinces.