Afghanistan: Activists say NATO provincial reconstruction teams need a gender policy
PRTs include military and civilian personnel and have a mandate for security and reconstruction, but this mixed role has caused controversy since PRTs were first deployed in January 2003. Many civil society organizations are reluctant to work with PRTs out of concern that they will be associated with NATO's military effort and exposed to reprisals. The concern has increased after a summer of suicide attacks, hostage-taking and attacks on aid workers. AWN argues that this split between security and relief has weakened the international reconstruction effort, and points out that PRTs are already key players in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. As of May, PRTs were administering more than 7,500 development projects at a cost of about $630 million, often in isolated areas where NGOs cannot work.
According to AWN, the impact of this work would be greatly enhanced by a policy on gender, and it recommends that NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) recruits a gender advisor and hire gender "focal points" for all teams. PRTs should promote the presence of women at regional and district meetings, and consult more with NGOs and Afghan women's civil society, says AWN. PRTs should also identify "safe space" where women can meet them without compromising their security or affronting cultural sensitivities. The success of PRT projects should be measured by whether women are participating in "governance structures."
PRTs have reacted with caution to the proposal, and AWN accepts that it might appear to dilute their military mission and threaten their autonomy. PRTs are led by individual governments, and can have widely differing priorities and budgets. But, says AWN, a coordinated policy on gender would bring more uniformity and focus into their development work. Furthermore, says AWN, investing in women builds security, and projects that fail to engage women are unlikely to succeed. In one case, women did not use a PRT-funded road because it led to a government center rather than clinics or schools. In Paktika province, 75 women were invited to a meeting on reconstruction, but none attended because the location - the governor's office - was considered unsafe.
A strong PRT policy on gender would also be consistent with efforts to harmonize the multilateral aid effort. PRTs were brought under ISAF last October and ISAF itself is subject to the authority of the UN Security Council, which has called for gender to be mainstreamed into peace-building. This August, humanitarian agencies and security forces in Afghanistan drafted new guidelines on Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC), which call for the involvement of "greater numbers of women in all levels of decision-making and in field-based operations." Gender was included at the insistence of AWN and other NGOs.
Once a new PRT gender policy is developed, AWN recommends that it be boiled down into key guidelines and printed on pocket checklists that can be distributed to all PRT personnel. In a welcome sign that AWN's advocacy is finally getting results, AWN learned today that gender checklists will be developed.
AdvocacyNet, News Bulletin 121
September 6, 2007
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