I've written here before about the absolutely critical need to include women and children in discussions about peace-building and conflict resolution in Afghanistan.
As the conflict seems to be intensifying in many areas of this country, discussions here are focused more and more on the unacceptable level of harm done to civilians either directly or indirectly.
I haven't posted much about this, but it increasingly makes up a significant proportion of our work these days. Today I had really interesting discussions as part of a consultation process we are undertaking with a wide variety of actors and affected people about the impact on civilians of the conflict and how civilians can be better protected.
A national workshop on the topic is being planned in Kabul in August and we are doing the regional consultations, hearing from people what their main concerns about protection of cvilians are and what more they think can and should be done. We have also been asking people about the format and particpants for this workshop.
Today one very engaged and interesting man told me that the most important thing was to ensure that religious and tribal leaders were at the meeting, because they are the people who can influence the communities. I thought that was a great suggestion, but asked him whether he thinks other people affected by the conflict should also be there - women and children for example. He told me that the tribal elders are completely able to represent the concerns, needs and views of all their community members, including the most vulberable. When I gently challenged him on this, telling him that in my experience women sometimes have different perspective and experiences to the powerful and influential elders he was very responsive and open to the possibility but obviously quite surprised by the suggestion.
When I got back to my office I found this press release in my inbox - reporting that Afghan women had met with NATO representatives early this month and agreed on a joint strategy to ensure that a "women dimension" is incorporated into NATO's security strategy in Afghanistan.
I smiled at myself, here I was so concerned about arguing for the right of Afghan women to have their say and be heard at a workshop on protection of civilians with NATO chiefs, Government and UN officials, and representatives of the international community. Meanwhile the sisters are out there doing it for themselves!