From side table to centre stage: Social justice and the Afghan peace process

In the past months, Afghan policymakers and civil society have found themselves again in a “fog of talks” with representatives of the Taliban insurgency, international interlocutors, and each other. While violence is reaching new peaks, intra-Afghan talks that could eventually lead to a political settlement among the warring parties are no longer a pipe dream.

There has been much talk in Afghanistan about the right format and power-sharing schemes, as well as a possible compromise in the political sphere. However, the socio-economic conditions for maintaining peace once achieved have been hardly mentioned in the public discourse. This is even more surprising given that 90 percent of employment in Afghanistan is classified as vulnerable, exploitation even of minors is widespread, and the local economy lacks the capacity to reintegrate former combatants.

A 2019 publication by the Bureau for Workers' Activities(ACTRAV) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) aimed at bridging the perceived gap between decent work and political stability, by encouraging workers’ movements to enter the stage of peacemaking. By commissioning the report’s translation into Afghanistan’s local languages Dari and Pashto, FES Afghanistan seeks to expand this critical discussion to the broader Afghan society.


Enhancing the role of workers’ movements in building peace and stability

The question of how to rebuild and reconstruct economies and societies torn apart by war has been on the ILO’s agenda since 1944. So why did the ILO members decide that its Recommendation 71 required an update after more than 70 years? Primarily, the revision, Recommendation 205 helped the ILO to adjust its strategies and instruments and to “capture today’s context”, as described by Lena Hasle, chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Decent Work for the Transition to Peace at the 106th ILO Conference in 2017.

Today, most armed conflicts threatening the livelihood of people around the globe are no longer fought between states, but within them. Crisis management is no longer limited to recovery and reconstruction, but also gives high importance to prevention, preparedness, and resilience. Endemic political strife can, impede society’s ability to cope and mitigate human-made catastrophes and natural disasters, as is dramatically demonstrated  by Afghanistan’s situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this new recommendation, the ILO calls on the international community to devote special attention to those particularly vulnerable to crisis. According to the UN, more than 6,000 Afghan children were killed or wounded in 2019 alone, during military operations and clashes, by mines, and in suicide bombings.

Decades of war have left the country with one of the world’s largest per-capita populations with disabilities, including many with amputations, vision or hearing problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of those struggle with discrimination at the workplace or even entering the job market. And finally, violence and conflict in Afghanistan are significant drivers for millions of refugees and displaced in and outside their home country.

“Recommendation No. 205 does not offer solutions – it is only a tool that invites social partners to reflect systematically on the ways in which the world of work can play a more sustained and central role in making the planet a safer and more secure world for everyone.” (Workers’ Guide to Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation (No. 205) / ACTRAV. Geneva: ILO, 2019. p.50) 

Recommendation 205 and the Workers’ Guide to Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience are not limited to descriptions of the context and consequences of today’s modern conflicts. They reflect the workers’ movements’ firm commitment to playing an active role in the transition to peace. This can be done by helping create full, productive and freely chosen employment and livelihoods opportunities, promoting social protection and social dialogue, and expanding ILO’s existing strategies and approaches of conflict mitigation from the workplace to the entire society.

In contrast to Recommendation 71, its successor takes gender aspects explicitly into account when addressing vulnerabilities and inequalities exacerbated by conflict as well as inclusive and transformative community leadership.


Social justice: a must on Afghanistan’s peace agenda

Protracted conflict, as well as the ensuing destruction and displacement, has cast a shadow over Afghanistan, impeding development and the establishment of institutions providing services, including justice and security. In such a protracted state of conflict, existing inequalities are worsened, labour standards disrespected, and social protection becomes unavailable to many.

This interdependence between economic development and conflict can also be seen the other way around. Job growth and creation can enhance community resilience; opportunities can prevent radicalization; and tax revenues can make basic social services and protection more available. Therefore, for peace to be sustainable, the transformative impact of social justice on stability and conflict resilience needs to be considered by those at the negotiating table.

In this historic moment for the country, it is also time for the Afghan workers’ movement to recognize its own role and potentially tremendous contribution to peace-making.

About the author

Dr. Magdalena Kirchner is the Director of the FES Afghanistan Office.

For more information on the work by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Afghanistan contact the FES Afghanistan office, visit their website or follow their official Facebook or Twitter for daily updates.

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