As intriguing as the phrase “Women were written out of history” sounds, it is not entirely accurate. In many cases, women were never written into history in the first place, and as Women’s History Month ends, it is important to recognize that this effort to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of women around the world does not end on April 1st. Though the month affords a special focus on women in history, we cannot let a change in date change how often we recognize their contributions. Women’s voice has value, and we can’t lose sight of honoring that.
PBS recently premiered a series, “Women, War and Peace II,” to recognize the ignored women peacemakers throughout history, like the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition that helped bring negotiators to the table for the Good Friday agreement, putting an end to the deadly conflict in Northern Ireland. When women participate and have a say in peace agreements, the resulting agreement is 35 percent more likely to last 15 years or more, according to the International Peace Institute. These women of Northern Ireland are only some of the many that have been largely forgotten as these stories of peace-making are told.
We see this erasure of women’s contributions to peacemaking today as history is unfolding in Afghanistan. Nobody can forget the atrocities that Afghan women had to endure under the Taliban. Such images have become synonymous with the utmost repression of women’s rights, but Afghanistan has changed significantly since that time. Now girls go to school and play on soccer teams, and women run TV networks and hold political office. Afghan women have adopted the phrase “Afghanistan will not go back!”
In Pakistan, the Taliban held control for longer than they did in Afghanistan. They tried to murder Malala Yousafzai in 2012 for her advocacy against the group and her insistence on going to school. This is a group that has tried to shoot young girls for trying to get an education, and they claim only seven years later that “they’ve changed.” We all know their true agenda though, thanks to advocates like Malala who have exposed the awful anti-women ideology that they spread.
Despite the incredible gains made by Afghan women in the last twenty years, and evidence that women peacemakers truly contribute to lasting change, they are currently being shafted and excluded from peace talks that are taking place between the U.S. and the Taliban. Reportedly, Afghan elected representatives have also been kept out of the process, while many believe that they should be leading it. These women are afraid that the hard work they have done for the last few decades will be erased if there’s a resurgence of Taliban power, and they’re not wrong to fear for their lives. A resurgence of the Taliban will leave women vulnerable to losing their rights, setting the country’s progress back decades.
Recently, Afghan Women for Peace and other groups gathered meetings of over 3,500 women from across the country and pressed for a need to give women a seat at the table in the negotiations, And there is growing international awareness of what is at stake. Still, the women are ignored. That situation must change, or there could be terrible consequences for women in Afghanistan in the future.
Women’s History Month may soon be over, but Afghan women and other women peacemakers across the globe are making history now. Let’s remember and acknowledge the critically important value their voice has at the table.
Blog by Elena Mieszczanski, NOW Government Relations Intern