Negotiations with the Taliban must include Afghan women to protect their progress and build a sustainable peace.
Friday, March 1, 2019 / BY: Belquis Ahmadi
As talks between the U.S. and the Taliban raise hopes for peace in Afghanistan, the country’s women fear another—and related—possibility: That their hard-won rights to participate in the nation’s political and economic life could again be washed away by the Taliban’s rigid views on gender.
In theory, Afghan women, who have played a role in peace efforts since 2010, should have an insurance policy against exclusion from the talks and any power-sharing arrangement that results. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Women, Peace, and Security Act, which calls for the United States to be a global leader in promoting women’s participation in preventing, managing and resolving conflict. and in sustaining democratic institutions in fragile states. The law even requires training for Defense and State Department officials in how to further that goal.
That said, it’s far from clear—despite some of-the-moment rhetoric—that the Taliban has any intention of ensuring such a place for women in negotiations. It is also uncertain whether the United States, faced with the realities of trying to wind down the war, is in a position to do much about it, assuming the U.S. even has the will to try. This has left Afghan women fearing abandonment after years of posting extraordinary gains in every area of public life.
In short, after 17 years of American-backed governments, Afghan women, and the society as a whole, have changed significantly with the emergence of female entrepreneurs, political leaders and nightly news anchors. The Taliban, by contrast, have evolved little on women’s issues since being pushed from power in 2002, despite persistent claims to the contrary. The group’s record is spotty at best in the areas of Afghanistan it controls, and its leaders continue to make ominous statements on gender, such as calling for girls’ education to end by age 12.
So, the renewed commitment of international powers and the Afghan government to developing a roadmap for political settlement is accompanied by a precarious sense of the place women might occupy in a future Afghanistan. But trading away the status of Afghan women for an agreement is—to be blunt—unacceptable.
Beyond Female Faces
The very notion of a deal that limits women’s rights must be named, called out and put under a spotlight so negotiators understand such an arrangement is a non-starter.
The inclusion of women is not just about putting female faces at the negotiating table. It means bringing the perspectives of more than half of the population into the peace process. It is about making sure the rights, concerns and contributions of women are considered at every turn and communicated forcefully in closed-door meetings with the government and the Taliban and with other insurgent groups. Any political settlement, power-sharing plan or proposed constitutional reform will affect every aspect of women’s lives, and they must have a seat at the table.
First, a quick review of what Afghan women have achieved since the Taliban government fell, even as patriarchal politics continue to limit women’s rights and opportunities in most of the country. Recall that under the Taliban there were no female judges, prosecutors or defense attorneys; no women in the media or security forces; no girls or female teachers in schools. A few women worked in medicine under strictly circumscribed conditions. As of 2019:
- Millions of women have voted in local and national elections. Of parliament’s 320 members, 63 are women, while women hold 18 seats as ministers or deputy ministers and four serve as ambassadors.
- Schools and universities employ more than 68,000 women instructors including 800 university professors in both private and public institutions.
- More than 6,000 women serve as judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police and army personnel.
- Government data counts about 10,000 women among the country’s doctors, nurses and health professionals.
- Female journalists number 1,070, working throughout Afghanistan.
- Some 1,150 women entrepreneurs have invested $77 million in their businesses, providing job opportunities for 77,000 Afghan women and men.
Women in Peace Talks
Since 2010, when President Hamid Karzai organized a three-day National Consultative Peace Jirga to pave the way for a political settlement, women have had some role in seeking to end the conflict. Women, who comprised almost 20 percent of the peace jirga, demanded they be included in peace processes and as a result nine were appointed to the 64-member High Peace Council that came out of the gathering of tribal leaders.
Women’s groups since then have proactively consulted with women across the country to identify their needs and expectations regarding the peace process and communicated their findings to the Afghan government, political leaders and the international community. Women have reached out to Taliban fighters, pleading with them to stop the bloodshed. (In 2014, the female members of the High Peace Council collected 300,000 signatures calling for peace and cessation of armed hostilities.) And, they have demanded that the Afghan government intensify its efforts for an inclusive peace process.
Because of their advocacy, a small number of women were able to participate in Track II dialogues with members of the Taliban in Norway, Doha and most recently in Moscow.
Read full report and additional material at original source HERE