Q&A with Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan David Metcalfe on Inclusive Governance

Publication Date: 
29 Apr 2019

News Type:

A new assessment from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) on violence against women in elections (VAWE) in Afghanistan was made possible by the support of the Canadian people through Global Affairs Canada.

Ambassador David Metcalfe joined the Canadian International Development Agency in 2007. His work since then has focused on establishing effective partnerships and programming, particularly in fragile and conflict affected contexts. Since 2017, he has reported directly to the deputy minister of international development, serving as director general of international assistance operations, and currently serves as Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan. In this Q&A, Ambassador Metcalfe speaks about the importance of and Canada’s commitment to inclusive governance in Afghanistan.

Why is it important for women to engage in Afghanistan’s political and peace processes?

When women are meaningfully included in political and peace processes, outcomes are not only more representative, but they are also more sustainable. Their voices are not limited solely to issues that affect them directly, but rather, they contribute to shaping effective and lasting outcomes across the board. Women and men, girls and boys experience violent conflict differently. Although key contributors to maintaining any sense of economic and social stability within society and within families during violent conflict, women and girls are often the most marginalized from the processes that seek lasting solutions. In Afghanistan, women and girls have experienced and implemented survival strategies for living with conflict and violence for decades. Their experiences, coming from different vantage points, are critical to shaping solutions that work for everyone. If we want global peace and security, we must involve women in every aspect of it – from conflict prevention, peacemaking and humanitarian assistance to post-conflict recovery and statebuilding.

If we want global peace and security, we must involve women in every aspect of it – from conflict prevention, peacemaking and humanitarian assistance to post-conflict recovery and statebuilding.

How do efforts to mitigate electoral violence against women in Afghanistan reflect Canada’s commitment to advancing inclusive governance, as laid out in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy?

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2015, the most persistent gender gaps exist in political participation. Women are often subjected to discriminatory laws and negative attitudes and stereotypes that discourage or limit their political participation. As the IFES survey demonstrates, women in Afghanistan who are fighting for their political rights in the public sphere are often intimidated, harassed, or face violence when seeking to participate in elections, including running for positions, as well as voting. Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy focuses on Inclusive Governance as one of its six key Action Areas and commits Canada globally to invest in the rights of women, their participation in politics, their legal authority and their access to justice.

In Afghanistan, Canada is doing just that, via a number of investments targeted at advancing the empowerment of women and girls. Efforts to mitigate electoral violence are intended to create a more conducive playing field where women can safely seek out leadership roles and fully participate in the democratic process. Breaking down any barriers to women’s participation is critical to ensuring a participative democracy that can effectively govern the country. As role models with public exposure, women representatives in the political process send strong messages to other women and girls about the opportunities that exist. They also play a key role, through their activities and leadership, in demonstrating to men and boys in the broader society the significant value that women bring to the growth and success of the country.

How can men be part of the solution for advancing women’s equal rights to participate in Afghanistan’s political processes?

Gender equality cannot be achieved by women and girls in isolation. Men and boys must also challenge the traditions and customs that support and maintain gender inequalities in Afghanistan. By providing opportunities for men to advocate for equality and encourage them to lead by example in respecting and promoting the interests of women and girls, they can support women’s participation in the country’s political processes. It is not simply enough to say that it is the “right thing to do,” but rather, it is imperative that we all work to educate and demonstrate why it is the “smart thing to do” for the growth and stability of the country. It is particularly important to transform the attitudes and behaviours of adolescent boys, as they will, together with girls, be the next generation of leaders in Afghanistan. As referenced in the IFES survey, Canada has also funded the [International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) in Afghanistan] by Promundo, which provided data that indicates that boys and men under 40 years old have the most negative gender views toward women and girls. Given Afghanistan’s significant youth population, it is essential to work with this cohort to inform their opinions and perceptions toward women and girls. We all need to work to reduce negative gender stereotypes by clearly demonstrating – not just in words, but in evidence-based results – how equality is critical to the strengthening of the country.

In the current political peace process, women are marginalized and have not yet been adequately represented in preparations for or during key discussions toward negotiation. Although their active participation is critical to a lasting solution, there are additional avenues to ensure that their opinions and voices are even further amplified. Women’s groups are working now to identify champions of their voices among men as well. Doing so is intended to ensure that, even when excluded from active participation, their messages are heard and reflected in decision-making. When they are actively participating, the message becomes even stronger.

Reflecting on your experience as Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, do you feel hopeful that Afghanistan will make strides toward advancing democracy and governance?

Yes, I am always optimistic. I’ve seen great strides and positive change since I began working with Afghanistan 12 years ago. It’s this change that keeps me motivated with a drive to keep going every day! There is still a very long way to go, but we cannot forget or underplay how much has been accomplished. Government institutions have become much stronger and Afghans have developed a stronger ability to challenge leadership to demand effective governance and the delivery of services. Civil society continues to grow and hold Afghanistan’s democratic and governance institutions to account. This is progress! Education has played a key role in this progress and Canada is proud to have been a significant investor in the gains that have been achieved for both girls and boys.

The Afghan people are resilient and their optimism is demonstrated every day as they continue to live their lives, despite the significant challenges they face. This was demonstrated during the recent parliamentary elections where, despite significant personal risk, women and men ran, campaigned, volunteered, and voted in support of the democratic process. As the VAWE assessment found, the challenges to women in the process were even more compounded. Yet, women continued to overcome the barriers they faced to participate. This is why I am optimistic! It is now upon all Afghans and the international community to support efforts that will reduce these barriers so that even more strong potential leaders can demonstrate their abilities to effectively govern for growth and prosperity that benefits all.

[During] the recent parliamentary elections [...] despite significant personal risk, women and men ran, campaigned, volunteered, and voted in support of the democratic process.

Learn more and download Violence Against Women in Elections in Afghanistan: An IFES Assessment.