International Institutional Mechanisms on Gender in Afghanistan and 2001, Bonn Conference


The article highlights the significance of international institutional mechanisms for removing gender gap and women empowerment. This article signifies the extent, which these mechanisms help to promote the gender related policy in Afghanistan. So it is important to know the direct or indirect outcome of these mechanisms for increasing the role of women in the political process in Afghanistan and to what extent these policies put in place to increase women participation in the different political process. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Right has taken a starting point for recognition of human right and the latest conference on Afghanistan which had an important role for mainstreaming gender and drawing the Afghanistan political process map was 2001, Bonn conference. The Bonn conference has come with a number of national machinery and national mechanisms for increasing role of women in the political process in post-2001 Afghanistan.

International Mechanisms for Gender Mainstreaming 

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human right adopted by United Nation, The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the UN General Assembly, The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women took place in Beijing in 1995 and Security Council resolution 1325(2000) are the important international institution mechanisms on gender which will be discussed as below:

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human right passed by United Nation. It was an important declaration in term of considering all human beings, as equal. In one of its article, it is declared that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (United Nation Declaration of Human Right, 1948). Article 2 of UNDHR clarifies “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (United Nation Declaration of Human Right, 1984:6). The UNDHR ensure the equality of all human beings.  No discrimination and prejudice would be acceptable in the name of gender or sex. Women have the same right of political participation as men have.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is another useful mechanism. It was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. This convention considered as the international bill of rights for women (UN Women, 2000).

The Fourth World Conference on Women took place in Beijing in 1995. The Beijing 1995 Conference was a very comprehensive conference in term of removing gender gap and women’s empowerment. The strategic objective of the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 ways to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making (UN Women, 1995:58). In Beijing, all the countries accepted the need for gender equality in areas of development, planning, and implementation. Beijing was a platform for responding the gender gap and it needed a commitment from all the governments. The Beijing Platform for Action was a comprehensive guideline for the advancement of women and each state is held responsible for its implementation.

Security Council resolution 1325(2000), was about women participation in negotiation and peace process (UN, 2002). It was the resolution which emphasizes more on increasing role of women in the peace process. So the question comes to minds what do all these mean for Afghan women.


The Impact of International Institutional Mechanisms for Mainstreaming Gender in Afghanistan

There is no direct commitment to the UDHR in Afghanistan but the establishment of the Independent Commission for Human Right in June 2002 is a step toward fulfilling the human rights and protection of women right even though this commission does not have any implementation power.

Afghanistan acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) without a reservation on March 2003 (Grenfell, 2004:22).The outcome of CEDAW in Afghanistan is the Elimination of Violence against Women Law (EVAWL). It issued in 2009 and it became a debatable law in Afghanistan’s Parliament. Conservative leaders resisted the law and considered it against some principles of Islam. Through EVAW women were to get more rights and freedoms. So it was unacceptable for conservative who believes in the traditional role of women and found it against cultural and tribal norms. Several protests were held in major cities to repeal the law (HRW, 2013). Nazir Mohammad Motmaen a prominent conservative member of the parliament said that “The unsatisfactory and adverse situation of women in Afghanistan is the product of democracy,” and also “Women themselves are to blame for their bad situation because they tried to see themselves from a western perspective. The laws and programs were westernized and often designed in ignorance of Afghan norms, which not only provoked resentment from people but also failed to help women” (Meran, 2016). The conservative leaders find such law against Islamic and cultural values that is why they resisted changing it, as it signifies western values. Afghanistan society still not ready to accept the question of gender equality and most probably the warlords and conservatives elements find their position under threat if women come into power. Women Network (2011) describes that the implementation of such policy on mainstreaming gender is weak in spite of having numbers of law, policies, action plans. According Ashraf Nemat (nd) women are being absent from many international conferences and the reason would be the absence of a husband or any male relatives of women. For example, London Conference 2010 for assessing donor’s aid for Afghan women there is no women representative in the London conference so there is always who decide the future of Afghan women.

In July 1995 the Women’s High Association in Kabul hosted 300 women at a three-day workshop to prepare guidelines for the Afghan delegates going to the conference. As they were about to depart on 31 August, the deputy foreign minister Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai, announced that the government had canceled the delegation because many issues to be discussed at the conference considered by the High Council to be against basic Islamic principles (Maley,2001:148). The Beijing conference was held at a time when Afghan women were suffering numerous restrictions and limitations from warlords and Mujahidin and Beijing Conference could have played a key role in improving the situation of Afghan women. The former President Burhanuddin Rabbani prevented women to attend the Beijing conference. The warlords and conservative leaders in Afghanistan who were in the position of power did not accept the basic principles of BPFA.

Afghanistan has adopted National Action Plan in 2015 to increase the role of women in peace and political processes of the county; it is a seven-year plan from 2015-2022(ANAP, 2015:1). This is a direct commitment to the Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). It is another important step for fulfilling international mechanism for the gender gap. The NAP addresses the challenges of women in post conflict society and ensuring women participation in peace and security issues (ANAP, 2015:1). Participation of women in peace negotiation is a crucial area of women political participation because women are the victims of war and conflict so they can play a crucial role in peace process too. Their experience is important and the participation of women in the peace process is must they can give a better perspective for peace compare someone who was not involved in the ground. Afghan women have had the harsh experience of war and conflicts during several decades of war so it’s required for them to be involved in the peace process. Since the ANAP was adopted recently still it is not clear to what extent this would be successful for increasing role of women in the peace process.

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US Intervention in Afghanistan

When Afghanistan was captured by Taliban in 1996, the international community’s including the US was silent despite massive human rights violation against women and political opponents. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which were the US main allies provided military support to the Taliban in Afghanistan(Berry, 2003:141). According to Berry (2003:142), it was not until 1997 that U.S criticized the human rights violation by the Taliban for the first time perhaps due to pressure from a feminist campaign on the violation of women right in Afghanistan. After the bombing, the U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 the US policy toward Taliban had changed (Berry 2003:142).

Gender was a crucial element of September 11. For instance, the link between Taliban and women oppression, as Lura Bush pointed out fight against terrorism would be fighting for the women (Gerstenzang and Getter, 2001).  One of the key focuses of US intervention was focusing on women. But a huge amount of money was spent on security and politics rather than real change in the life of women as their main mission was remain so far in doubt (Mehran, 2016). The main reason for the military invasion of Afghanistan was the protection of human right and women right and fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Taliban ruled Afghanistan for five years in the very brutal way and restrict all kinds of freedom and the impact on women was much harsher, but the world was not really concerned with what was happening in Afghanistan when the countries national security come under threat they want to protect at any cost. As US invaded Afghanistan on 11th September when the twin towers in New York attacked by al- Qaeda so the US came to Afghanistan to fight Al-Qaeda. Berry (2003) argue

“perhaps the most significant sign of the abandonment of Afghan women by the United States has been the failure of the U.S. and the international community to curtail the power of the warlords and prevent the return of the chaos and human rights violation that followed the Soviet withdrawal from the country” (Berry, 2003:148).


Bonn Conference 2001

In 5th  December 2001 in Bonn, Germany the United Nation envoy to Afghanistan, Ambassador Lakhdar Ebrahimi, US envoy to Afghanistan, ambassador James Dobbin, and other diverse groups of international diplomats came together in Bonn to set the political agenda for Afghanistan (Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2011:5). The road map of Afghanistan’s future was drawn in this conference. Four delegations of anti-Taliban factions attended the Bonn Conference: Northern Alliance, the Cypress group (a group of exiles backed by Iran), Rome group (loyal to former king Zaher Shah who was living in exile in Rome) and Peshawar group, (a group of Pashtun exiled in Pakistan). Among 30 delegates, four were women two from Northern Alliance, and one each from Rome and Peshawar groups(PBS, nd).Representation of eighteen countries monitored the talks. On the first day of the conference, the delegates agreed on the road map for the process of forming a government (PBS, nd). Under this agreement, an interim administration would be formed to run the country for the period of six months until an emergency Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly). The next Loya Jirga duties were to select a transitional administration that would run the country for the period of two years and to draft a new constitution (PBS, nd). In Bonn, it was decided that the interim administration would be the key for establishing a broad based, multi ethnic and gender sensitive government. Sima Samar was appointed as head of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Suhaila Seddeqi was appointed as Minister for the ministry of Public Health, out of 30 ministers under interim administration. It has been promised the women should have enough representation in the emergency Loya Jirga (Charlesworth and Chinkin, 2002:603).

The presence of four women in Bonn was not sufficient when women formed more than half of Afghanistan’s population. These women who were present in Bonn also linked to their respective groups and they were not independent and did represent an independent standpoint so they represent their group rather than Afghan women in a crossroad. It was the Northern Alliance which prevented two women’s marches from taking place in Kabul at the time when Kabul was liberated from Taliban. The presence of the four groups in Bonnon women issues is problematic.  First, some of these groups had black records of human right violation. So, could they be the protector of human rights (HRWR, 2005:5). The Washington Post identifies numbers of leaders in key post of executive and legislative bodies of the Afghan government as perpetrators during the civil war of Kabul 1992-1995 (Kaphle,2015). These warlords were responsible for the destruction of Kabul. They are accused of human rights violation outside Kabul, commanders and their troops in many areas have been implicated in widespread rape of women, girls, and boys, murder, illegal detention, forced displacement, and other specific abuses against women and children, including human trafficking and forced marriage (HRWR, 2005:241). Secondly, these traditional leaders did not welcome with the issues of gender equality and equal political participation. The four women delegate had a less influential role in Bonn conference. Their presence was mainly for fulfilling the quota and due to pressure from international communities. Some of these factions were backed by neighboring countries. So the interests of neighboring countries were also taken into account.



There is a number of international institutional mechanisms which were helpful in term of gender equality and gender empowerment. Some of these international mechanisms led to some national policies in Afghanistan even though some of this international machinery did not lead to any policy regarding gender in Afghanistan. The US intervention in Afghanistan was more about safeguarding its national security while gender used as an important tool to legitimize their invasion in Afghanistan. The US intervention followed by the Bonn Conference which was a key departure point for gender mainstreaming in Afghanistan. So it helped a number of women to be involved in the political process. The Bonn Conference was too great extent under influence of warlords and tribal leaders and they continue to dominate the political arena of the country till now. The Bonn conference is important in term of bringing numbers of women under participant political culture while the restrict cultural and religious practice have still remained against women politicians and the rests.



Zarifia Sabet

Kabul, Afganistan.

She has completed Masters degree in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi, India.






  • Berry, K. (2003) ‘The Symbolic Use Of Afghan Women In The War On Terror’, Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, Volume (27), pp. 137-136. Available at: [Accessed 29 Jan 2017].


  • Charlesworth, H and Chinkin , C (2002) ‘Sex, Gender, and September 11’, American Society of International Law, Volume (96), pp. 600-605. Available at: [Accessed 28 January 2017].





ü  Kaphle, Anup. (2015). ‘The warlords of Afghanistan, The Washington Post, 1 April. Available at: [Accessed 29 March 2017]

ü  Mehran, Metra (2016) ‘For Afghan Women, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’ , Foreign Policy. Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb, 2017]


ü  Maley, W(Ed.). (2001) Fundamentalism Reborn?: Afghanistan and the Taliban. London: C.Hurst. & Co. (Publisher)Ltd.



ü  UN Women, (1995) ‘The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Beijing: UN Women. Available at:[Accessed 10 September 2017]

  • UN Women, (2000) ‘Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women’. Available at: [Accessed 31 Jan, 2017].


ü  UN (2002), ‘The Situation Of Women In Afghanistan’, Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb, 2017]

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