Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, January 15th, 2021

Women’s Role and Rights Need to be Considered in Peace Talks

Afghan women carried heavy weight in social, political, and cultural arenas within the last couple of decades and made great strides. Their role has been prominent in political structure, media, civil society and human rights organs. Women paid heavy sacrifices in upholding their rights and liberties and democratic principles within the frame of law. But religious ideologues and fundamentalists viewed women with cynicism and tried to narrow the room for their presence in one way or another.
The rights and liberties of women are one of the most contentious issues at the negotiating table and the Taliban are willing to further narrow the room for women’s active participation in cultural, political, and security sectors. Taliban negotiators have said they support women’s rights, for example, but only under strict Islamic law. Many analysts interpret that to mean the same harsh oppression of women practiced by the Taliban when they governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
“The Taliban say they want an Islamic system but they don’t specify what kind,” said Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, a member of Afghanistan’s negotiating team, pointing out that there are nearly as many systems as there are Islamic countries.
The recent wave of targeted killings indicates that the Taliban seek to eliminate civil society and media activists before reaching peace agreement with their republic interlocutors. Female reporters and activists have been also targeted.
Women also played crucial role in peace process. Fawzia Koofi, a member of the republic negotiating team, survived an assassination before her trip to Doha, Qatar’s capital. She, along with three other female members of peace talks, represented women in the intra-Afghan dialogue and had their say face-to-face with the Taliban negotiators without fear. Female negotiators haggled over protection of their rights and freedoms as well as protection of Afghanistan’s democratic achievements with the Taliban negotiating team in Qatar. They are determined to continue defending the rights and liberties of Afghan women in the next round of talks, to be started on January 5.
Meanwhile, Afghan women showed bravery and rendered services in security sector. Despite suffering challenges within the police rank as a result of cultural tradition as well as security threat looming large, Afghan women serve with strong determination in security sector.
Afghan women have made it clear on several occasions that they would not backtrack and compromising their rights and liberties at the peace table would not be acceptable. Afghan women have raised their voices against social and political injustice, participated in demonstrations, held gatherings and conferences, and had their say through media to have their part in the society.
Considering the active role of women in all sectors within the last couple of decades, all members of the society, men or women, have to stand for women’s rights and liberties. Gender discrimination should never find room in Afghanistan’s law under religious terminology, as the Taliban have capitalized on so far and intend to continue so. Afghan Constitution, which forbids gender discrimination and stresses equality between men and women, should be protected.
Afghans expect negotiations should strengthen democratic principles and, besides bringing in sustainable peace and stability, ensure protection of individual and collective rights and liberties. No individual or segment of the society, including women and human rights organs, should be harmed as a result of peace talks.
The Taliban have to make their stance clear regarding the future political structure and women’s position in it. Signing agreement with ambiguity in women’s rights would leave a loophole for the Taliban to impose their mindset on the people with violence, and the Taliban seem to pursue this tactic since they do not intend to highlight their views clearly about Islamic system. The government’s negotiating team should be cautious not to leave any issues ambiguous.  The Taliban have to reconcile their mindset with women’s rights discourse and constitutional principles, which are embraced and supported by the people of Afghanistan. That is, peace agreement needs to be signed with the public consent. There should be no imposition of mindset or certain system on the society but establishment of what the masses demand. Protection of women’s rights is defined as the government’s “red-line” and ordinary people also support it. After all, heavyweight religious clerics also support women’s rights and had active participation in approval of the constitution after the collapse of the Taliban regime. Hence, women’s rights and freedoms defined in the constitution are in reconciliation with Islamic tenets based on moderate interpretation.