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Testimony from Afghan woman peacebuilder Kochay Hassan*: Life under the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Regime

17 August 2022

Disclaimer: This is my experience, and I cannot speak on behalf of the millions of women living in different regions of Afghanistan.

I remember the night – scrolling more than 18 hours a day on Twitter to witness the collapse of provinces one by one. It was scary; at the same time, adventurous. I even followed Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, on Twitter to get the latest and most reliable news on the fall of our provinces. But unfortunately, President Ghani’s comments on social media and local and international media coverage were false promises that could not be believed. What they wrote was a plain lie. 

A day before the collapse of the capital, I read that the Taliban fully controlled Mazar. The adrenalin rush, non-stop refreshing newsfeed, busy minds with frightening thoughts, escape plans and applying for any opportunity to leave Afghanistan was all I heard and witnessed on social media and in real life. It was surreal. Who would have thought that Kabul would collapse? I laughed whenever someone would mention it. 

I remember tearing up and listening to the national anthem several times, thinking this would be the last day to listen to it and watch the national flag waving in the presidential palace. It was depressing, I admit. 

The first three days of Kabul under the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) regime were quiet and dark. I heard there were barely any people walking around the city. The tragedy of the airport was embarrassing and horrific. Kabul was officially the land of zombies. I regularly asked my father about the situation outside the house, and every time he would answer that all was well. Did I believe him? No. 

I saw videos of people being punished and tortured by IEA soldiers for listening to music, wearing jeans, and their political background and relationship with governmental officials. Some were old footage from years ago, while others were misinterpreted. But unfortunately, some were real videos happening in the provinces. 

Hearing and reading about it discouraged me from going outside and seeing more for myself. My mom and sister were the first women in our family to go outside and witness the situation. On the third day after the fall, my sister got sick. My mom had no choice but to go out with my sister to get her medical attention. After an hour and a half, they returned, and I asked, “How was it? Did they question why you were outside without Mahram[1]? Did they react badly because my sister wore jeans instead of a burqa[2] and hijab?” Mom laughed and said, “No. They were quite respectful. They would not even stare at us. I saw some girls eating ice cream, and the group of Taliban would look at them and smile shyly among themselves.” I was shocked. This was nothing that I expected. That encouraged me to go out to see the situation for myself. 

The first month was numb – lots of good and bad stories were spreading here and there. But for myself and thousands of other women and girls, it was just depressing. There was nothing in the news. Twitter and social media were the only source of information for us. My closest friends were evacuated from Afghanistan, one after another. WhatsApp groups were full of negativity and hopelessness. Groups of women and girls kept saying life was over for them in Afghanistan. They could not see a future in this country. 

Weeks later, my sister and I went out shopping. I did not want to take risks, so I wore the longest dress I could find in my closet because I did not own an abaya[3] or hijab. The streets were empty. Barely any women or girls could be seen. My heart sank. It was like they had vanished from the face of the earth. But let me clarify this: the reason that there were no women in the street was not that the Taliban would not allow them, but that, like myself, many were afraid to go outside and face a new reality. The checkpoints were full of Talibs, and their appearance intimidated me. It was bizarre – almost comical – that the people we had been afraid of for 20 years were just there. Among us. Not one or two, but hundreds of them in the streets. They were Afghans, too, who spoke our language and believed in the same God as we did. Then what separated us? 

Before the fall, I worked as an employee for one of the women-led organizations. The day Kabul collapsed, I was still in the office when one of our male colleagues entered the room, panicked, and asked everyone to leave immediately. It was strange that a night before, Balkh collapsed, and I cried my eyes out, and then the very next day, the other employees and I came back to the office like it was just another ordinary day. Our colleague said, “Taliban are at the gates of Kabul. Pack your stuff and leave immediately.” My supervisor was shaking and crying. She whispered, “My mom is in the hospital. What will she do? Oh my god. What is happening?!” I hugged her and told her to calm down. Then I went straight for my table and started packing. While packing, I thought that it was the end of my career. I will never see my colleagues again. I will never be able to work. The organization will no longer be able to function since it is women-led and works to educate women and girls. 

A month later, after the collapse of the government, I was connected with senior management of the organization through a WhatsApp group. I was informed that all our organization’s key employees had left the country, including our director. Things were not going well for the organization and many others like it that were women-led. The turnover in all organizations had significantly burdened the remaining employees. The bank accounts were frozen, which prevented many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from operating or paying their employees’ salaries on time. Some women-led organizations were on the blacklist due to their former senior management’s involvement in politics and the National Resistance Force (NRF) – work in opposition to the IEA. Most of the projects funded by the United States government were suspended due to sanctions. All development projects were stopped and shifted to humanitarian projects. It was hard for NGOs, including ours, to adapt to the sudden change in the scope of programs. Female employees of NGOs were working from home. The women-led organizations hired men as directors or deputies to negotiate with the de facto authorities, reopen their offices and continue their work. Some collapsed after a few months due to the lack of funds and difficulties adjusting to the huge turnover. 

Our organization was struggling too. We did not have access to our accounts. Other female employees and I were working from home. We barely had projects. The donor would not risk their fund and money by investing in a women-led organization. I do not blame them; there were many issues with women’s work and uncertainty in their movement. The Mahram issue was also there, which made it even harder for women to get jobs and for donors to cover the extra expenses. It was the darkest four months for our organization. Every day was a new struggle, and further complications for women made it difficult for the organization to operate. However, that did not stop us from assisting our male colleagues from home, pushing us to work even harder. 

It was the first weeks of December when we finally found the courage to talk to our district police department about allowing the female staff to return to the office. Surprisingly, they agreed but did not give us a written permission letter. It was all verbal, which left uncertainty, doubt and fear in many female employees’ hearts. The first day back to the office was so surreal. Nothing looked the same. Our female director was replaced with a male deputy director. As a women-led organization, we were left with only three female employees in the main office, which had been segregated into male and female sections. But this did not stop us from interacting daily. Every day was a struggle, financially and mentally, for our organization, yet our spirits were not broken, nor was our will to work. 

I would come home crying to my mom and sisters because of the work pressure. It pained my soul to see our organization collapse and unable to pay our staff salaries for months. It would give me a headache every day and caused me many sleepless nights to see the space for women-led civil society organizations (CSOs) shrinking. I still think of the days I wanted to write my resignation letter to our director, who assisted the organization from a distance and guided me daily in handling certain things. However, the midnight breakdowns would not stop me from waking up the next morning, dressing up and working all day to find a way to reopen other branches in the provinces. Just thinking of those days makes me realize how far I and all the other female employees and our organization have come. 

During these four months, assistance and small funding from other organizations helped us operate and remain open through difficult times. It was like a blessing and spark of hope on those black days. We could finally access bank accounts again a month later, though the salaries for only two months were processed. We could pay some of our debts, but we still had other problems. We were able to reopen our other branches one by one. It was not as desirable for the provincial staff, but we overcame it by coordination and trust-building with the de facto authorities. We gradually learned that the key to surviving is negotiation and coordination. We learned that we should speak their language and change some terminology to make them understand our work. It took a lot of time, energy and many meetings, but we needed to do that outreach. We were finally getting back on track. However, we still lacked funding and women to lead the organization. 

I took over as the Executive Director in April. It was new, and the future for the organization was not very promising. It is not for the majority of women-led CSOs in Afghanistan. I met groups of other CSO directors in different gatherings, and they all asked for opportunities and funding. Their years of experience and nationality would not change the fact that the organizational capacity had been significantly reduced, and the projects’ scopes had changed from development to humanitarian action. Afghan NGOs were trained for 20 years in the development sector, and the donor would instead go with international NGOs (INGOs) since they implement humanitarian projects with better quality and transparency. This is one of the reasons that local NGOs, specifically women-led organizations, have struggled to get projects and funding from donor agencies. 

Once, my uncle heard me saying that I’m exhausted and depressed. I remember that he replied, “Kochay, be patient. If you want to lead an organization, it requires a lot of sacrifice and patience. It is good that you are passionate about your job. Work with what you have available. Just because you are dealing with old cars doesn’t mean you have to buy new ones. Fix the old ones and invest in them. You don’t know this, but you are sitting on top of a gold mine. You must find your worth and prove that your organization can offer new things. Just do what you are confident about, and do it the best way possible.” My uncle taught me a lifelong lesson to adapt and adjust to new circumstances. 

It is not easy to live here, but it is not unbearable either. That keeps me sane and optimistic about the future for myself and millions of other women and girls in Afghanistan. Is it too limited? Does it require certain restrictions? Does it take us more steps than the men-led organization to complete a simple procedure while dealing with the de facto authorities? Yes, yes and yes. But does that stop me and the other 60+ women and girls in our organization from coming to the office regularly? No. Are we frustrated sometimes? Yes. Are we angry sometimes? Yes. But do we, as women, also have joyful moments when we cover 11 provinces and serve thousands of women and children through our interventions? Yes. And that is what matters the most. 

This month marks one year since the collapse of the republic government of Afghanistan. We, as Afghans, have faced it all. From middle school closure, economic crisis, poverty, sanctions and bank restrictions to brain drain, the current regime, natural disasters and humanitarian crisis, we have experienced everything imaginable. It has been a difficult and painful year for all Afghans. But it has not stopped us from surviving every day and fighting for that spark of light in the darkest days. Though international allies failed us, we fought our own battles and did not quit. We stayed. We fought. We fell but got up and fought harder—every day. History should not call any of the women who were left behind victims. Remember us as survivors, agents of change and peacebuilders. 

GNWP stands with the Afghan people, particularly women and youth peacebuilders, who continue to be negatively impacted by the oppression and violence brought upon them by the Taliban. GNWP thanks the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for its support that enables us to sustain our work with AWEC and other local women’s rights organizations and promote local peacebuilding and women- and youth-led  humanitarian response. 

For GNWP’s full solidarity statement, see:

* Kochay Hassan is the Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Educational Center (AWEC). AWEC is a member of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) working locally in Afghanistan for the rights of women, young women and girls.

[1] A male escort to accompany a woman when she leaves the home.

[2] A long, loose garment covering the whole body from head to feet, worn in public by women in many Muslim countries.

[3] A full-length outer garment worn by some Muslim women.

GNWP condemns the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

June 25, 2022

New York, USA. In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade – the landmark Constitutional ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to access abortion – the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) condemns this violation of fundamental human dignity and agency along with millions of people across the nation. GNWP stands in solidarity with those whose bodily autonomy has been imperiled by this judgment, particularly people of color, especially Black and Indigenous communities, individuals with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged, and other marginalized and historically vulnerable groups.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights, including the right to an abortion, are essential to a free, just and equitable society. Studies have shown that restrictions on abortion rights only serve to harm women and those who require reproductive health services. GNWP condemns the weaponization and politicization of women’s bodies and healthcare choices for power and control. Undoubtedly, the ramifications of this dereliction of human dignity will impact globally, including in countries suffering from violent conflicts and humanitarian crises.

Central to our mission is the goal to build equal, resilient and peaceful communities and to support women in leading the way to a better future, none of which is possible without the right to bodily autonomy. GNWP continues to advance efforts to ensure that all women have full access to the human right to sexual and reproductive health, free from the undue burdens of stigma or barriers. 

We mourn this dark moment in American history. Still, we also derive hope and strength from feminists, women’s rights activists and gender equality allies in the United States and globally who continue to fight for the right to choose. We join you in the ongoing struggle for the full realization of women’s rights and human rights! 

GNWP Reports from Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, Northwestern Uganda

27 May 2022

By Mavic Cabrera-Balleza*

“We are the future of South Sudan! We want to go home, and we appeal to President Salva Kiir to ensure safety and security in our village,” – young South Sudanese refugee women in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, Uganda

As part of its Feminist and Localized Humanitarian Action Program, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, in partnership with Eve Organization for Women Development, facilitated a workshop on peacebuilding, women’s rights, and gender-responsive humanitarian action with young South Sudanese women refugees on 27 May 2022. The young women’s responses to the training were very positive and inspiring. They expressed their longing to go back home and live peaceful and productive lives. However, they also know that it may take a long while before that becomes a reality because of the sluggish implementation of the 2018 revitalized peace agreement and the South Sudanese government’s lack of political will. Despite the limited resources and facilities at the refugee settlement, the young women want to learn how to read and write better and develop life skills. While they don’t mind walking to school, which takes several kilometers, they wish there were more classrooms and teachers. There is only one teacher for more than 100 students. There are very few classrooms where several grade levels must share one room. “Sometimes we just stand outside because the classroom is so full!” said one of the young women.

Thirty young women aged 17 to 30 participated in the workshop. Out of the 30, at least 20 already had children or were pregnant. They identified early pregnancy as one factor that prevents them from going to school and pursuing other opportunities. They want to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and they want to decide over their own bodies.

GNWP and Eve Organization plan to advocate with the Ugandan Government authorities to build more classrooms and hire more teachers. The two organizations also plan to organize sex education and identify other groups or institutions that can provide reproductive health care services.

The young women also discussed their livelihood projects. They want to earn incomes to support themselves and their families. GNWP provided them with seed funds for their projects. The students in the group also received funds to buy school supplies.

Hon. Betty Ogwaro, a Member of the National Parliament of South Sudan joined GNWP and Eve Organization on the trip to Bidi Bidi. She exchanged ideas with the South Sudanese women refugees, particularly on how to achieve peace in South Sudan. Hon. Ogwaro serves on the Boards of GNWP and Eve Organization.                                                                                                                           

GNWP and Eve Organization will continue to collaborate to enhance the South Sudanese young women’s leadership potential and develop their skills. They will also support the young women to participate in the management of the refugee settlement and implement the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security and Youth, Peace, and Security in South Sudan and Uganda. 

GNWP thanks the Austrian Development Agency and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation for their support. 

* Mavic Cabrera-Balleza is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders.

Celebrating inclusive collaboration: Launch of the Young Women+ Leaders for Peace chapter in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region

4 April 2022

by Shayne Wong[1] and Katrina Leclerc[2]

Rwanda is often remembered internationally for the genocide perpetrated on its territory in 1994. However, increasingly the country has been recognized within the African continent and the wider international community for a different reason: Rwanda has taken great lengths to address gender inequality and has recognized the need for women’s equal participation in decision-making to heal and rebuild their communities.

The Constitution of Rwanda sets gender equality as one of its pillars, and it established a  30 per cent quota for the number of women in parliament. As of October 2020, UN Women reported that Rwandan women occupy 61 per cent of the parliamentary seats, leading global figures for women’s participation in any country’s parliament. Along with governmental action, civil society groups have galvanized significant progress towards gender equality.

To support Rwandan gender equality efforts, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), ISOKO Partners for Peace and Gender Equality, Benimpuhwe, and Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), launched the Young Women+ Leaders for Peace (YWL) program in Rwanda with a series of workshops and a virtual forum. The workshops in Kigali convened government officials and youth from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda from 9-11 September 2021. The workshops inaugurated the newest and tenth chapter of GNWP’s YWL network globally. The virtual forum, which took place from 8-10 January 2022, followed up on discussions from the launch activities while also encouraging government officials from the three countries to reaffirm their commitments toward gender equality and the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) in the Great Lakes Region region.

The Young Women+ Leaders program helps young women and gender equality allies gain the skills and confidence to become leaders in their communities. It raises awareness of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace and Security agendas and enhances women and youth peacebuilding capacities to effectively advocate for the implementation of the WPS and YPS agendas at local, regional, national, and international levels.

Advancing regional peace and security priorities

The workshops in Kigali were an opportunity for 28participants from Burundi, DRC, and Rwanda to share their stories  about advocating for the WPS and YPS agendas in the Great Lakes Region and increase their capacities as advocates. The participants discussed leadership skills, COVID-19 response, effective global advocacy campaigns.

“I am proud to be a young man in peacebuilding because I can lend my voice to young women and support gender equality through my commitments to peace.” – Young Women+ Leaders for Peace member from Rwanda

The session on gender equality facilitated by RWAMREC emphasized the importance of recognizing that gender equality is not only a women’s issue. It challenged people of all genders to engage with and advocate for the fight for gender equality in the Great Lakes Region. Questions such as “what makes you proud to be a man/woman?” or “what does not make you proud to be a man/woman?” were posed to the attendees. Members of the newly-formed Young Women+ Leaders for Peace network were encouraged to recognize and reflect on the ways that women and men can work together to fight for and achieve gender equality in the region.

Renewing commitments for gender equality

“Everyone can contribute [to the effective implementation of the policies.] We cannot reach the goals alone but together by joining efforts, we can.” -Concluding observation by break out group examining the Participation pillar of UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security

The January 2022 virtual forum saw over 30 participants from government and civil society come together to share their progress and reaffirm their commitment to gender equality in the Great Lakes Region. In the sessions, YWL members discussed their accomplishments since the official launch of the network and how they envision a gender-equitable and youth-inclusive future in the region.

YW+L members had the opportunity to hear about the work on WPS, YPS and gender equality in DRC from both civil society and government representatives. The newly-formed Congolese Coalition for YPS, which officially launched on 9 December 2021, shared its experiences on building a coalition and promoting youth inclusion in peacebuilding. The National Technical Secretariat for UN Security Council Resolution 2250 (STN-2250) also shared their ongoing work in the DRC on the development of the National Action Plan (NAP) on YPS.

Throughout the sessions, YWL members were able to share perspectives and recommendations about how young people can be included at all levels of peacebuilding. Some of their key recommendations were allocating core funding for youth organizations, raising youth awareness of the YPS resolutions, implementing intersectional approaches to peacebuilding in the Great Lakes Region, and holding governments and key stakeholders accountable for the full implementation of the YPS resolutions.

The workshops and virtual forum on the WPS and YPS resolutions in the Great Lakes Region were organized with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

For more information on GNWP’s Young Women+ Leaders for Peace program, please visit:

[1] Shayne Wong is the Youth Engagement Program Coordinator at ISOKO Partners for Peace and Gender Equality. She works on ISOKO’s Youth, Peace and Security policy and programming.

[2] Katrina Leclerc is the Director for Africa, Middle East & North Africa (MENA), and Latin America Programs and Communications at GNWP.

An Appeal for the Immediate Cessation of Hostilities in Ukraine and Respect of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Laws

4 March 2022

The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) strongly condemns the military invasion of Ukraine and the recognition of the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states by the Russian Federation. We call on all parties to ensure respect for human rights, women’s rights, and international humanitarian law.

The military invasion and the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and territories of Donetsk and Luhansk violate the United Nations Charter and other international laws. Since the current Russian invasion, 352 have died and 1, 700 have been wounded. This adds to the more than 14,000 casualties, 30,000 injured, and over 2 million IDPs in 2014. Moreover, due to the invasion, Ukrainian women are at higher risk of trafficking, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, and restricted access to education, employment, and health care.

The Russian Federation’s recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent from Ukraine along with its ongoing military operations in Berdiansk, Enerhodar, Lviv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, and Zaporizhzhia regions have resulted in mass human rights violations and displacement, and threaten peace and stability not only in Europe but in the entire world. These actions violate the United Nations Charter, international humanitarian law, and the Minsk Accords, a set of 2015 agreements that sought to end hostilities and reinstate protection for human rights in the Donbas region. In the face of the growing humanitarian crisis, Ukrainian women are mobilizing to distribute humanitarian aid, disseminate critical information through social media, and help families flee from the attacks of Russian military forces. Nevertheless, talks in Belarus between Russia and Ukraine have failed to include Ukrainian women meaningfully. 

It is vital to support humanitarian efforts led by Ukrainian women and ensure their participation in decision-making on peace and security in accordance with Ukraine’s National Action Plan on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. GNWP urges the United Nations Security Council and the broader international community to take all necessary action to restore security in Ukraine, protect civilians and prioritize their needs, especially those of women peacebuilders, activists, and vulnerable populations.

GNWP stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, especially women and youth peacebuilders, who are key actors in the survival and resilience of their families and communities during a crisis. We must continue to listen to and amplify the voices of the Ukrainian people. We reinforce their calls for:

  1. An immediate ceasefire, cessation of all hostilities, and adherence with international humanitarian law;
  2. Safe and accessible humanitarian corridors for evacuation and the delivery of aid that reaches all Ukrainian people in need, especially minority communities;
  3. Initiation of a peace process which ensures the meaningful participation of women, youth, and other historically marginalized communities at all stages of negotiations;
  4. Provision of rapid technical and financial support to Ukraine civil society organizations, including women’s rights organizations on the frontlines of the humanitarian crisis;
  5. Protection of women’s rights and human rights in Ukraine by Member States, multilateral institutions;
  6. An investigation of the crimes of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed within the territory of Ukraine by the International Criminal Court;
  7. Accountability for human rights violations through gender-responsive monitoring and accountability mechanisms led by international actors such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and
  8. Integration of key provisions of the Women, Peace, and Security resolutions into all programs and security initiatives in response to the conflict in Ukraine.
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