n the face of it, the rare, major gathering of Afghan leaders last week in the capital of Kabul, looked to be a positive effort towards an inclusive peace process.

Some 3,000 delegates from across Afghanistan met for the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga to discuss the ongoing United States-led peace talks. About 30 percent of the representatives were women, and in attendance were civil society and community representatives, who have often been excluded from previous peace initiatives. With 30 percent of the jirga’s committees also chaired by women—two hold jirga leadership positions—there are hopes that women may finally have their say in the Afghan peace process. But it remains to be seen just how much say independent civil society will have and whether the jirga’s decisions will be respected in practice, given bitter experiences so far.

Restrictions on civic space—the space for civil society—and women’s rights in Afghanistan remain under serious threat. And a successful outcome for peace negotiations does not automatically translate to a positive result for fundamental freedoms in that country.

Renewed peace talks with the Taliban that began late last year have gathered pace with the United States reconciliation envoy Zalmay Khalilzad given short time to reach a settlement. Separate parallel processes—one led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and another intra-Afghan peace talks initiative between Taliban and prominent politicians and some civil society members—were launched this year.

But this sudden and rushed negotiations push by the U.S. has side-lined Afghan civil society and raised alarm among activists, and women in particular that important human rights advances made so far could now be in danger of being rolled back and lead to a further constriction of civic space.  

Under Taliban control, from 1996 to 2001, severe restrictions were imposed on women’s access to education, free movement, work and health, as well as the freedom of expression.  In the past few years, as part of their insurgency campaign, the group has attacked schools and targeted students, teachers, health workers, journalists and human rights defenders, particularly women activists.  

But despite this threatening environment, and with women’s rights particularly at stake, women representatives from across the country have been mobilising and have set "red lines" for the peace talks, calling for their fundamental and constitutional rights not to be negotiated at any cost. To ensure a sustainable peace, it is vital that civil society and women’s groups are provided a safe space and given the adequate opportunity to  take active part in the negotiations. Although there is speculation that the Taliban’s position on women’s rights has softened, women groups are sceptical and are demanding strong guarantees that their constitutional rights will be respected following the peace deal.

Their fears are well founded. Previous peace negotiations that have excluded civil society failed to address the grievances of victims of the armed conflict and respect for human rights and have been a threat to critical CSOs and journalists. The last peace process between the Afghan Government and the armed group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) in 2016 left victims without the prospect of justice or reparations. Many, including the HIG’s leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord accused of horrific atrocities against civilians were granted immunity from legal prosecution for past crimes.

Before this, the Bonn Agreement, which was signed behind closed doors after the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, also led to notorious warlords entering politics. This created a threatening and restrictive environment for CSOs and journalists for exposing human rights violations by these powerful individuals and advocating for justice for their victims.

Cursory attempts to bring women into the peace process until now have had mixed successes. In February, a national “Peace Consensus” gathering brought together more than over 3,000 women from 34 provinces to raise views, concerns and suggestions on the peace process. But an intra-Afghan peace conference between the Taliban and prominent Afghan representatives, scheduled for April 20-21 in Doha and due to include women and some civil society members, was cancelled over a “disagreement” over the proposed participants. President Ghani’s updated peace plan envisages an advisory role for civil society, but this has not yet been established and it is unclear who will be part of it and to what extent it will influence decision-making.

So, while there has been some opportunity for women and civil society to engage with the peace process in Afghanistan, activists are sceptical of these efforts. Proposed women’s participation is still inadequate and with most representatives handpicked for their links to the government or other powers, there is little prospect or space for dissent. They argue that for the peace consultations to be constructive and genuine, civil society and women activists have to be engaged right from the beginning and given sufficient place at the table with 50 percent women representation. Priority must be given to independent civil society organisations (CSOs) and women’s rights activists.

It is crucial that this new peace process break with the history of neglect of victims’ rights and impunity for war crimes. It must ensure inclusivity, providing a place at the negotiations table and enable decision-making for women, victim groups and other civil society members so they can preserve their rights.

Aside from the struggle for an effective say in their nation’s peace process, these remain threatening times for Afghan CSOs. According to The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in Afghanistan and 195 other countries, civic space faces serious restrictions as a result of growing insecurity and direct threats, attacks and intimidation of media and CSOs by the Taliban, state and security officials and other groups.

If the Afghan government and Taliban are serious about their commitment to an inclusive peace process, they must show respect for the right of CSOs, women’s groups and journalists to free speech and stop attacking them for speaking out. All parties involved in the peace process must ensure the meaningful participation and representation throughout the peace negotiations, including during decision-making, of civil society, women, minorities and victims’ groups.

As the U.S. and the Taliban undergo another round of talks, the U.S must ensure that concerns of civil society are considered and create the space for civil society inclusion in this process. In this crucial time for human rights, the international community must put pressure on the parties to the negotiations and support civil society to ensure that a peace settlement with Taliban will guarantee and preserve the basic rights of all Afghans, including women’s rights, rights of victims and freedom of expression.  

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
Horia Mosadiq
Horia Mosadiq is a prominent Afghanistan women’s rights defender.
Sonya Merkova
Sonya Merkova is a researcher with CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.