The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women (The Initiative) Advisory Board member and volunteer Belquis Ahmadi, Senior Program Officer, with her colleague Rafiullah Stanikzai, Senior Project Officer, at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) earlier this month published a white paper - USIP Peace Brief 243 - entitled, Redefining Masculinity in Afghanistan.
Peace Brief 243 summarizes the initial findings of a USIP Asia Center pilot project designed to assess the impact of war and violent conflict on two generations of young Afghan men. Also summarized in the white paper are initial findings regarding the effect of initiatives to teach Afghan men tolerance, peaceful masculinity, as well as basic conflict resolution and peacebuilding skills.
The pilot project summarized in Peace Brief 243 covered four provinces - Balkh, Nangarhar, Herat and Kabul - and was supported in part by the Afghan government, civil society and international experts. The pilot project is just one of many similar ongoing projects at USIP which deliver programming on peace and security to men in conflict zones.
Belquis and Rafiullah present three related themes emerging from the pilot project:
Over three decades of war and violent conflict have left Afghans physically and emotionally distressed.
Survival has become the priority of life in Afghanistan leading to Afghans' acceptance of violent and aggressive behaviors as acceptable means of conflict resol conflict in their society.
To redefine the concept of masculinity, violent and aggressive approaches to conflict resolution permitted by current social norms must be rejected and peaceful approaches to conflict resolutions must be rewarded.
The authors cite Afghanistan's very young, fast growing population and general instability as two major factors leading to myriad societal issues and the rise of a masculinity marked by violence and aggressive personal acts in response. They describe a variety of examples of how that violent masculinity has manifested in the lives of all segments of Afghanistan society and how the pilot project used those narratives in part to design workshops that would engage young men emotionally and intellectually in their self-examination of masculinity.
Click on the Peace Brief 243 image to the right to download and print a copy of the document.
Peace Brief 243 concludes with seven specific recommendations to inform and support those working to redefine masculinity in Afghanistan. Those recommendations include further study of the youth bulge and criminal activity correlation; using local examples of peace and peaceful behavior; leveraging state institutions to enlist women in reshaping children's gender stereotypes; engaging community elders and mullahs as messengers of change; teaching school students about peaceful masculinity and conflict resolution; and launching government sponsored, nationwide public awareness campaigns.
"In many parts of Afghanistan, displays of aggression and intimidation represent a rite of passage for adolescent boys and a symbol of manhood for men. The social acceptance of such behavior, however, heightens the risk that intolerance of diversity and interpersonal violence ... become an everyday fact of life."