In July 2007 I went to Afghanistan to teach mediation. In the new Rule of Law scheme adopted by Afghan Supreme Court, Attorney General, and Ministry of Justice, and economically supported by a number of countries, space is left for informal processes like the traditional local Shura and ADR.
A number of female university students were selected for training in mediation, and TV covered the outcome by interviewing the students. Prior to my training, some mediators had expressed doubt whether the Afghan mind could benefit from mediation. The students did well.
The mediation training took place in the outskirts of Kabul and thus not in a “safe” area. Nevertheless the students turned up every day and where very committed to learn mediation.
Women in Afghanistan have by law only few rights and in practice no rights at all. In the capital, Kabul, the practice is different in some educated families. The women (not least the thousands of widows) of Afghanistan have suffered gruesome atrocities for centuries, and the humiliation of them became even worse by the 30 year lasting war (must read: Khaled Hosseini, A thousand splendid suns, 2007). I therefore complemented the training in empathetic listening with a thoroughly training in assertion (ability to identify you needs and to express them in a clear and clean way). Next they were trained thoroughly in empowerment and recognition. And these splendid suns of future Afghanistan managed both to comprehend and to repeat. First the conflicts chosen by them were about chores and later on man/woman issues, even the latter is a very taboo and sensitive issue in Afghanistan. They did well.
As the nation and its inhabitants are traumatized by 30 years of atrocitive warfare and as deep active listening from the generic (community) mediation, may stir up emotional data, better dealt with by a rehabilitation center or a psychologist, I tried to mediate conflicts from the traumatized part of their lives using cognitive styles as systemic, narrative and transformative mediation rather than affective styles as humanistic and generic mediation. That is, mediating from the head rather than from the heart. They managed to learn and to perform that too. The new textbook http://uk.mediator.dk/240-new_book.htm and the matching website http://djoef-forlag.dk/sites/mediation/video.html (draft) proved intelligible and useful.
The 9 TV journalists focusing on the training had never heard about mediation before, and they found it very appropriate to teach in particular young families, - first in Kabul and later on in the provinces.
Surviving strategies from 30 years of warfare outnumber civilized consideration of the weak (women included). Yet still the core of any of the mediation processes is appealing to many; - fed up as they are with warfare, its consequences and the devastating negative impact on human and civilized norms and behavior. The young educated generation is not repeating everything from their parents or families (see traditional and value-rational meaning at http://djoef-forlag.dk/sites/mediation/video.html Day Seven.
Assertion is needed in the first place, so people realize how important it is to be able to express needs and concerns in a clear and clean way. The Afghan tradition rests on considering standard needs and concerns as these appear in the eyes of the powerful, and of course people get one another wrong when they assume instead of listening carefully and encouraging assertion and expression of needs and concerns.
As anyplace where hearts, brains and skills are torn by traumas, mediation has a place in Afghanistan. I shall soon be back doing further and wider training.
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