How Women-Led Traditional Dispute Resolution Committees Promote Peace in Local Communities

UNDP Afghanistan’s partner Keenly Humanitarian Assistance for New Afghanistan Organization (KHANA) promotes social cohesion and peacebuilding in Balkh province.

September 22, 2022
Members of women-led Traditional Dispute Resolution Committee in Balkh province of Afghanistan

Women-Led Traditional Dispute Resolution Committee meeting in Balkh Province of Afghanistan

UNDP Afghanistan

The most popular dispute resolutions in Afghanistan are the Traditional Dispute Resolution (TDR) mechanisms, principally in the form of community councils such as Shuras or Jirgas, as a familiar, cheaper, and quicker solution. 

But traditional processes have their shortcomings. For example, women are usually uninvited to the TDR committees that often poorly reflect women’s voices or violate their rights. In addition, the TDR occasionally turns a blind eye to unjust and harmful practices, such as exchanging women and girls as commodities to settle disputes, despite being illegal under Afghan and international law and contrary to Islamic legal principles. The worsening social security, breakdown of community-based safety nets since the outbreak of COVID-19, and the sudden socio-political changes of August 15 have all had a detrimental effect, particularly on women, to be treated equally in the eyes of the law.  

 “We are usually not allowed to represent ourselves in the local Jirgas or Shuras. They don’t recognize our rights as individuals, and we are often discounted as lesser human beings. But, thank God, we now have our own TDR committees.” said Deba Sultani, a member of the women's TDR committee in the Balkh province.

For the first time, the women’s TDR committee was established in Balkh province, under the support of UNDP and partner Keenly Humanitarian Assistance for the New Afghanistan Organization (KHANA). Methods of conflict resolution with consideration to the institutional and Sharia law were shared with the committee members, and each member was tasked to pass on their knowledge to at least ten other women. Immediately after the establishment of the first women’s TDR, they embarked on solving cases such as this.

Zainab lived in severe poverty with five children under her care. She realized that after her father’s death, her brother Amir Muhammed sold all his inheritance, including her share. Amir claimed that their late father sold what was supposed to be hers. The women's committee members successfully gathered information that proved to be contrary to Amir’s statement. Eventually, Amir was brought to the committee meeting, where he admitted his faults and promised Zainab 150,000 Afghani (1,700 USD), what was her rightful share.

Similar cases where women were previously systematically ignored were brought to justice through women’s TDR.
“For the first time, we feel comfortable and safe that our problems are heard and solved without discrimination. I am amazed with the outcome, which would have been impossible in a traditional TDR. So thank you and your team for doing such a wonderful job for women.” Zainab said.

Two TDR councils were created in Balkh and Dawlatabad of Balkh province districts. Each council has 20 members divided into male and female TDR committees. All four TDR committees resolved 64 cases, of which 40 were by female TDR committees.

However, the project continues to face significant challenges, such as deep-rooted gender discrimination that women are not fit to judge nor dispute a decision made for them. 

UNDP, with partner KHANA, continued to conduct meetings to raise awareness within the community and support the introduction of female TDRs and their committees. Now, most female TDR members are from families who were openly against the idea. More women TDRs are planned for the future. 

This six-month project was participated by 2,800 participants, 1,440 women. The project also included promoting peace and social cohesion narratives in academic institutions and local communities to enrich awareness across all genders, ages, and societal positions.