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Women of Afghanistan fear for their future!

As talks between the U.S. and the Taliban fear that their hard-won rights to participate in the nation’s political and economic life will be washed away by the Taliban’s rigid views on gender. Afghanistan has entered a pivotal but highly uncertain time.

Afghanistan is a country where women were granted the right to vote in 1919 which is a year before the United States, and guaranteed the right to education and to work in 1964. 

When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and the Taliban seized control of the government, Afghan women watched as their rights were terminated overnight. Women were banned from workplaces, schools, and from appearing in public without a male chaperone. In almost every aspect of public society, women became invisible. Women of Afghanistan had to fight for their rights.

Since the Taliban regime fell, the status of women has improved. According to Oxfam, by 2002, only 5% of women were literate, and 54% of girls were married before they were 18 years old. Afghanistan was then ranked as the country with the second-highest rate of maternal mortality, with upwards of 15,000 Afghan women dying in childbirth each year.

In 2004, the new Afghan constitution reinstated rights that women possessed previously, setting aside seats in the upper and lower parliamentary houses for women.

Afghanistan adopted legislation protecting women’s rights and has signed on to international treaties pertaining to women’s rights. In 2009, Afghanistan adopted the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law, criminalizing practices that are harmful to women (physical abuse and sexual assault). The number of female police officers, attorneys, and judges has also increased, thus enabling women greater access to protection and justice. Women’s shelters have been established, and judicial officials have received assistance in reflecting women’s rights in the delivery of justice.

In short, in the last 17 years, Afghan women, and Afghan. society as a whole, have changed significantly with the emergence of female entrepreneurs and political leaders. They play a very active role in social, cultural, educational, and economic arenas. They are doctors, teachers, lecturers, engineers, and traders. To put it succinctly, Afghan women have made great progress in economic, political, social, and cultural arenas if one compares them with two decades ago.

A report from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) includes a number of points about the future for women’s rights in Afghanistan. The fear is that, with the decrease in foreign aid for Afghanistan, gains achieved over the past decade may be lost. In addition, the negotiations with the Taliban may create challenges for women if the Taliban are given a strong role in state institutions.

Recent changes made by the Afghan government have also increased women´s fear even further. For example, the absence of women during the negotiations for power-sharing agreements between Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, which ended in signing a power-sharing agreement without any female representation. discussions over the allocation of key government posts went for months behind closed doors, with no women invited to take part.

A new deal mediated by Afghan political leaders placed Dr. Abdullah in charge of the peace efforts with the Taliban in a new role as chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

In recent Afghan government appointments at key positions, only two women were appointed as ministers. The president promised two more seats for women at ministerial level which overall doesn’t even make it 20 percent of the new appointments.

Only a few female representations on the list for the peace negotiation team are another factor that adds to women´s fear about their future. On March 1, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal. The agreed next step in this agreement is the beginning of an Intra-Afghan Dialogue which will start soon. Women of Afghanistan were hoping to see at least 40 percent very strong female negotiators from the government side. Instead, there is less than 30 percent of women nominees among the group which is chosen from that government.

The time is very crucial for Women of Afghanistan. This is a moment of both fear and hope! It’s an urgent time for the world to support their hard-won rights. The deal between the US and the Taliban could pave the way for a peace that Afghans desperately seek, but there are huge risks for women’s rights in this process. At this critical point in Afghanistan’s history, it is crucial that Afghan women are no longer sidelined. The exclusion of women will lead to imperfect and unsustainable peace.

Even the staunchest women’s rights activists have widely accepted that there is no path to peace in Afghanistan except through negotiations with the Taliban. Despite this, protecting women’s rights needs to be one of the key objectives of this process.

For that to happen, women not only need to be at the negotiating table but their role should be increased at the government level even before the negotiations start. At this stage government support for women will not only affect individual women directly, it will also change the course of policymaking and the future of their role in society.

The increase in the number of women especially in key government positions at this critical time will help the woman to impact all the aspects of the pre and the post negations. For example, they can have an impact on whom and how many women should be at the negotiation table with the Taliban. They will also be a bigger challenge for the Taliban to deal with after they join the government in the event that Taliban negotiators change their minds towards women´s rights issues. Therefore, it is very important for the Afghan government and all its international partners to back Afghan women, who are in the fight of their lives.

View expressed in this article are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pajhwok’s editorial policy.

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