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Afghan women’s activism wins more seats at peace conference

UN Dispatch learned last month that just 20 of 1000 reserved seats at Afghanistan’s upcoming national peace conference had been allocated for women. According to a statement by the Afghan Women’s Information Forum, that number has been increased to 30 following pressure from activists.

Afghan Women’s Information Forum spokesperson and rights activist Nargis Nehan told UN Dispatch that education minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak announced the increased number of seats on behalf of the government during a panel discussion organized by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

“These seats are only for women from civil society,” Nehan said. “However there will be more women from the government as well as the parliament.”

On April 3, Afghan women’s rights groups released a statement calling for the full participation of women in the national conference –an event known as the peace jirga– scheduled to take place in Kabul early next month, and demanding decisions made at the gathering not violate human rights.

“Women’s participation in implementing and organizing any policy, and planning national programs and events is a must,” said the statement by 260 women from two civil society coalitions and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Other demands included a quota of 30 percent for women at the conference, and women having a meaningful say in all final decisions.

The exclusion of Afghan women from important diplomatic delegations and talks between the Afghan government and representatives of the insurgency has angered civil society activists in recent months, but it has also encouraged unity among women’s rights groups and unprecedented advocacy efforts.

Nehan said that the steering committee of the Afghan Women’s Information Forum is holding frequent meetings with the government ahead of the peace jirga but added that “there are still challenges in terms of coordination and cooperation between the civil society and government.”


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Tragedy Strikes Poland

From the Washington Post:

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and a group of leading lawmakers and civil servants were killed Saturday when the presidential jet crashed in heavy fog on approach to an airfield in western Russia — the haunted site of an earlier Polish tragedy, which the delegation was arriving to commemorate.

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Guatemalans Still Starving

You may recall that we reported in January on a WFP flash appeal for funds to rescue drought-ravaged Guatemala from a deepening food crisis. Unfortunately, the UN announced today that it has received less that 10 percent of its $34 million request.

As a refresher, 680,000 Guatemalans are in need, particularly in the “dry-corridor,” marked on the map to the right.  Children, as always, are suffering the worst — 43 percent under the age of 5 are currently malnourished.  

Last year, Guatemala suffered one of the driest rainy seasons in 30 years.  That coupled with a dramatic drop in remittances due to the financial crisis has deepened Guatemala’s already dire situation.

Come on people! Only $2.9 million has been raised so far. Pathetic.


Nepal: Women Migrant Workers (Video)

A story about the struggles of Nepalese women migrant workers, from the United Nations.

The lesson here is that public policy has an important role to play in mitigating the risks faced by migrant workers in the developing world.

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13-Year Old Yemeni Bride Bleeds to Death

Strong trigger warning

Last week in Yemen, a 13-year old girl was married to a 23-year old in a family-arranged marriage. Four days later, she bled to death from severe injuries. Reports SF Gate:

The 13-year-old girl from Hajja province, northwest of the capital, died on April 2, four days after her marriage to a 23-year-old man, said Majed al-Madhaji, a spokesman for the Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights. A medical report from al-Thawra hospital said she suffered a tear to her genitals and severe bleeding.

Authorities detained the husband.

The Yemeni rights group said the girl was married off in an agreement between two men to marry each other’s sisters to avoid having to pay expensive bride-prices. The group said that was a common arrangement in the deeply impoverished country.

Yemen’s gripping poverty plays a role in hindering efforts to stamp out the practice, as poor families find themselves unable to say no to bride-prices in the hundreds of dollars for their daughters.

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What’s Next for Kyrgyzstan? Three Possible Scenarios

It’s pretty clear that we just saw an attempted coup in Kyrgyzstan. (A coup or a revolution, depending on how you see the opposition’s role in this.) Opposition forces have driven President Bakiev out of Bishkek, and the opposition leader, Roza Otunbayeva, has claimed the presidency.

Bakiev, however, has not left Kyrgyzstan. He’s now in Southern Kyrgyzstan, the stronghold of his power and the epicenter of the 2005 Tulip Revolution which brought him to power. He has not officially given up power – in fact he’s explicitly stated that he has not resigned. We’re still hearing gunfire in downtown Bishkek.

At this point, we’re balanced between several possible scenarios:

Scenario one – the best case

Bakiev could go quietly. Issue a statement, give up power, leave the country, and retire to Moscow or London. He has the personal wealth to sustain a pleasant life outside Kyrgyzstan. Otunbayeva would then be recognized internationally and establish relations with foreign governments. She’s been talking to Russian Prime Minister Putin, so the new administration might well be in Moscow’s orbit, but that’s not the end of the world. She has promised elections in six months, so we could see a transition to functioning democracy.

Scenario two – a bad case

Instead of going peacefully, Bakiev could use his time in Southern Kyrgyzstan to build support and gather weapons. The sporadic shooting in Bishkek could grow in frequency until it turns into urban warfare, exacerbated when Bakiev brings his troops north to the capital. In a few days, it could go from violent protests to full out civil war.

Otunbayeva seems to have the support of Russia; Bakiev could seek support from Uzbekistan. While he Uzbeks wouldn’t be willing to go visibly head to head against Russia in a proxy war, I could see them quietly supplying weapons and funding to Bakiev just to keep Russia occupied. A civil war could drag on for months, even years. Kyrgyzstan is already a poor country. Protracted violence could destroy its struggling economy, no matter who wins the war in the end.

Scenario three – another bad case

The horrible combo option: Bakiev gives way peacefully, and the precarious collation of opposition parties promptly falls apart. This coup grew from disorganized protests aimed mainly at higher utility prices. It’s not the result of a concerted movement, and the various groups supporting it don’t have a good history of working together smoothly. They’re mostly people who have held power in the past.

Dissention in the ranks could lead to anything from dysfunctional government to open warfare among the different factions. In other words, even if Bakiev leaves quietly, we could still face civil war in Kyrgyzstan.

We could also, of course, see some mixture of all these scenarios. Bakiev could put up a violent resistance for a few days and no more. The opposition coalition could hold but still govern badly. Bakiev might not get Uzbek support, or Otunbayeva might not be as close to Russia as we think.

Right now all we can do is wait. The people of Kyrgyzstan have repeatedly shown their desire for an honest, responsive government. Let’s hope they get it.

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