GNWP’s Cora Weiss Fellow: Civil society briefer at UN CSW64

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Remarks by Heela Yoon, Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; and Founder and Director of the Afghan Women Welfare and Development Association

Delivered during the procedural meeting of the 64th Commission on the Status of Women, 9 March 2020.

Your Excellencies, representatives of the UN, Member States, and fellow civil society actors, good morning!

Women, including young women, are critical actors, who build and sustain peace, advance sustainable development, and promote and protect human rights in their countries and communities. Over the past 50 years, significant achievements have been made to advance their rights and gender equality. The Commission on the Status of Women was created in 1961; the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted in 1995; the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was adopted in 2000; and finally, UNSCRs 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security, was adopted in 2015. However, despite some progress in the implementation of these international frameworks, women, young women and girls still face many challenges and threats; and our contributions to human rights, peace and development is often unrecognized and unsupported.

I stand here before you today, particularly grateful that I have been given the unique opportunity and enormous responsibility to represent young Afghan women who are advocating for gender equality, human rights, and sustainable peace in grassroots communities on a daily basis. As the world watches Afghanistan’s peace process unfold, it is important to remember that to end and prevent armed conflict and war, we must address its gendered impact. Afghan women, young women, and girls must meaningfully participate in peace processes and political decision-making at all levels in order to ensure sustainable and inclusive peace and development.

Shouldering large domestic burdens, denied access to education and economic opportunities, and experiencing discrimination based on assumptions about their capabilities and credibility, Afghan women, young women, and girls—like their counterparts around the world–face significant barriers to meaningful participation in political decision making, peace processes, and the national economy. For example, 87% of women are illiterate, only 2% of women have access to higher education. This reflects a global reality, wherein 76 million young women lack basic literacy skills.

In Afghanistan, like in many places around the world, most women face significant challenges in exercising their economic rights and participating in the labor force. Without financial independence and literacy skills, they are inhibited from participating in household and community decision-making. Moreover, close to 90% of Afghan women and girls suffer from at least one form of abuse, including physical or psychological violence; and 70-80% are subjected to early, forced, and child marriage, many before the age of 16.

According to the Progress Study on Youth Peace and Security, young women in conflict affected communities are stereotyped as victims, while young men are stereotyped as perpetrators of violence–rather than partners for peace. In an already limited space for women’s meaningful participation in political decision-making and peace processes, young women remain overlooked, marginalized, and excluded. However, young women are dispelling restrictive narratives of women as victims of conflict without agency and are advocating for gender equality and inclusive and sustainable peacebuilding measures.  In the absence of formal mechanisms and accessible opportunities to meaningfully participate socially, politically, and economically, young women have forged their own avenues to lead peacebuilding efforts and movements for progressive social transformation.

As the Founder of Afghan Women Welfare and Development Association and as a Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, I work with young women and men  to challenge gender stereotypes in conflict affected rural communities. Through creative writing, art, and music, we discuss women’s rights, feminism, human rights, and sustainable development and peace. We are taking ownership of our bodies, examining religion, asserting our rights in the family and broader society. 

Today, most Afghan women, men, and youth fear that peace with the Taliban may mean war on us if we are marginalized from the peace process. The Afghan Peace Process is a decisive turning point in our country’s history. I urge all parties involved at the local, national, and international levels to remain committed to international human rights and women’s rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, the WPS Agenda, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Afghan women have buried their sons, daughters, husbands, sisters and brothers. We want peace more than anything, and we know peace can only be achieved by recognizing our freedom and rights.

We want meaningful participation in the peace process and we want our voices to be heard and make a positive difference. Without women, this peace will be a broken peace! We are hopeful for an Afghanistan in which women, young women, and girls will be able to participate meaningfully in political decision-making at all levels; and realize their full potential. 

I’m inspired and bolstered by the activism of young women from across the world whose leadership in peacebuilding has brought new approaches to advocacy. Young women have led peaceful demonstrations and protests for good governance in India, Chile, and Algeria; sparked global action for climate change; and steered community service, humanitarian response, civic engagement, and social media revolutions. Young women leaders continue to demand and push for equality in a way that can revive the energy of all those around them. They have the power to mobilize.

Considering that youth make up the majority population in conflict-affected countries, their meaningful participation in peace processes and political decision making is both a demographic necessity and a democratic imperative for accountability of political institutions under international law. 2020 is a pivotal year for gender equality. The 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference (Beijing+25)/Generation Equality Forum, the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, and the 5th anniversary of UNSCR 2250, are catalytic moments to advance the gender equality agenda and improve the implementation of the WPS and YPS resolutions. These coinciding anniversaries present a global momentum for governments, UN entities, students, teachers, civil society, feminists, women’s rights activists, and young people to mobilize for our collective vision for gender equality, sustainable and inclusive peace. I call on the UN and Member States to ensure that the voices of women and youth peacebuilders are central to these global processes.