By Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Afghanistan’s country code is +93. My phone lights up—day and night. I cannot bear to answer, knowing I have no answers. I cannot bear to ignore them. “I hope you are not tired,” they say. “Sorry to bother you,” “Thank you for thinking of us,” and “If they find me, they’ll rip me apart, please take my children.” Their graciousness, dignity, apologies for disturbing our lives, to help save theirs, are humbling and haunting.
I run a nonprofit supporting women’s peacebuilding organizations in 40 conflict-affected countries worldwide. We’ve had Afghan partners for years. They dedicate their lives to caring for their communities, running shelters for violence survivors, training women police officers, documenting the failures of the allied efforts for the security sector, advocating for rights and justice and setting up networks of men to prevent violence. Their reach extends nationwide.
As women peacebuilders they always fought for a seat at the tables of negotiations, to ensure the protection of civilians and the rights of women and minorities, but for 20 years they were sidelined by diplomats and politicians. They persisted because they knew when the political elite—those with the power of guns and money—cut deals, the people, especially women and minorities, are forgotten and forsaken. They’ve been proven right.