HERAT -- As efforts to the end the war in Afghanistan intensify, the Afghan government is encouraging women to share their ideas and use their influence in their communities to spread the message of peace.
In August, the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) launched the National Consensus of Afghanistan's Women for Peace, led by First Lady Rula Ghani and meant to empower women in peace talks with the Taliban.
Since its launch in Kabul, the National Consensus has spread to 28 provinces and is gaining momentum.
The latest peace gathering was held December 5 in Herat, where more than 500 women participated.
Similarly, in September, more than 400 women from across Baghlan Province joined the National Consensus.
"[Women] will be making recommendations regarding the peace process," Marjan Matin, an advisor to the first lady, told Salaam Times December 5. "Women will also look into all obstacles to the peace process in their provinces and will come up with the best solutions."
Women can play a vital role in bringing peace as members of society and can work work alongside men, as mothers, wives, sisters and even as teachers who influence hundreds of children each, she said.
"Such women, therefore, can play a key role in transmitting the message of peace to children and other people," Matin said. "The formation of this consensus is the first step in mobilising women."
"Our experience has shown that women in some provinces were informed; in fact, they were experts on peace," she said. "Many of them came forward after this gathering and talked about peace. These women will transmit the message they receive from this programme to other women in their areas."
Mobilising citizens for peace
"Our goal is to mobilise Afghan citizens for peace," Matin said. "This is a big plan that has already attracted 11,000 women from across Afghanistan, and the presence of this many women is not something that anyone can ignore."
"The new generation of Afghan women has developed great abilities and wants to play an important role in major political plans, especially the peace process," said HPC member Laila Jafari.
"Women have been the main victims of decades of war in Afghanistan; however, they will no longer allow such a thing to happen in Afghanistan," she told Salaam Times.
"Women must always be present at peace talks with the Taliban, as they already are," Jafari said. "Women's movements have shown how big a role they can play in negotiations with the Taliban."
"Afghanistan will not go back to the period 20 years ago [under the Taliban regime]," she said. "Afghan women want to preserve the achievements of the past 17 years in accordance with the constitution."
"Women in Herat are working to achieve social peace, while politicians in the capital will lead the efforts towards political peace," Jafari explained.
"Political peace won't come until social peace does," she noted, stressing, "We are trying to further highlight the role of women in providing greater social peace."
Preserving women's achievements
Following the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghan governments, including the current National Unity Government, with support from their international partners, laid out the ground for women's progress and advancement in various areas.
"President Ashraf Ghani has given women a say in peace talks," Jafari said.
"Women do not have a red line in their talks with the Taliban, but we do have some red lines when it comes to the negotiating table and the peace agreements with the Taliban," she said. "These red lines are women's rights, civil and political rights of women, the constitution, and the protection of achievements made by Afghan women over the past 17 years."
"The achievements of Afghan women over the past 17 years may not be negotiated over or exchanged for any peace agreement," Fatema Rawshanian, a Kabul-based Afghan journalist, told Salaam Times.
"If the Taliban are to join the peace process, they should not ignore women's rights because women can play vital roles in every aspect of life, including the peace process," she remarked.
"These women's gatherings send a message to the Taliban, which is that the Afghan women can play an integral role and may not be marginalised in the peace process, as is the case with all other processes."
A seat at the negotiating table
"Reasons for previous failures of the peace process include ignoring the part played by women," Jafari noted.
"In the ongoing efforts to start peace negotiations, women have gained major roles," she said. "There are three women within the group that represents the Afghan government in peace talks with the Taliban. These women come from within the community and will be present at the negotiating table with the Taliban."
"Women who serve on the HPC should represent women in peace talks ... and should not solely endorse what men say," said Jafari. "These women should represent the views of all women."
"In a resolution reached during the National Consensus gathering, Herat women called for the provision of peace and for an end to the war in the country," said Herat deputy provincial governor Munesa Hasanzada.
"We cannot ignore the government's efforts to empower women's participation in the peace process," she told Salaam Times. "However, we want more participation by women in this process."
"Islam has given women a special status, and the Taliban, who consider themselves Muslims, should respect the role played by women in accordance with religious principles," she added.