Women were brutally consigned to the shadows during the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule in Afghanistan, denied basic human rights and not allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone.
But three women who were part of a 20-member Afghan delegation that held informal peace talks with insurgent representatives in Qatar last weekend said they were unanticipatedly receptive to their viewpoint.
Taliban Support for Women’s Education
“Taliban participants reportedly pledged support for women’s education up to the university level and vowed to permit women to work outside the home, ‘even in male-dominated professions like engineering’,” Heather Barr, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher on women’s rights in Asia, said in a statement.
“These are rights almost entirely banned under the pre-2001 Taliban government, which basically relegated women to their homes except when under male supervision.”
Former MP and women’s rights activist Malalai Shinwari, who attended the talks, also said the Taliban representatives voiced support for female lawmakers and for the right of women to choose their own spouse.
They paid close attention when I told them ‘you made wearing the burqa compulsory, I used to see the world through small holes in the burqa, through a small window’,” Shinwari told AFP this week.
“I even told them the story of a woman in my village whose two sons died — one fighting for the government and the other for the Taliban. She is devastated after losing her sons,” she said.
Shinwari said she went into the meeting expecting the insurgent delegates would not even greet her, but one elderly Taliban member with a wispy white beard walked up to her and said he had tears in his eyes after hearing her speak.
But Shinwari’s revelations to the media triggered an avalanche of criticism from other activists who accused the Taliban of phony assurances.
It also remains unclear whether the Taliban members have the wider support of insurgent commanders who have waged a war against US-led forces for nearly 14 years.
Barr also weighed in with scepticism.
“The Taliban often says one thing and does another. During the long conflict with the Afghan government, the Taliban have often attacked girls’ schools and teachers, and threatened and killed women’s rights activists and women in public life. These attacks continue,” she said in her statement.
Shinwari was accompanied by two young Afghan women who serve as defence lawyers for Taliban detainees.
“I told the Taliban representatives: ‘You didn’t let these two women go to school, but after your regime ended, they completed university, and today they are lawyers defending the Taliban in government prisons’,” she said.
It’s May, 2015 CHINA TALKS
KABUL—Afghanistan’s most prominent peace envoy held secret talks with former Taliban officials in China last week, accelerating regional efforts to bring the insurgency to the negotiating table, people briefed on the matter by the warring parties said.
The two-day meeting, which took place in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi, was aimed at discussing preconditions for a possible peace process, the people said.
“These were talks about talks,” one diplomat said.
According to the latest report from the United Nations, 2014 was the deadliest year for civilians caught up in Afghanistan’s war since the UN began keeping records in 2009. Civilian casualties, which include injuries as well as deaths, were up 22 percent from the previous record set in 2013,with the count topping 10,000 for the first time. The casualty count among women and children also reached record highs.
In addition to gunning down police, the Taliban have gone after Kabul’s police chief and an outspoken women’s rights activist. That may be because Afghan women are actively agitating for a place at the peace table. According to the international aid group Oxfam, women are being left out of government efforts to start peace talks.
There have been over a dozen peace pow-wows with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, and only three have included women. When a handful of females were allowed to attend, they were criticized for being there without their husbands.
Women are worried that their rights will be bargained away by the Afghan High Peace Council, which has 61 men and only 9 women. The Taliban actually outnumber the women on the Council.
When the Taliban ruled from 1996 until 2001, women had virtually no rights. They could not work or go to school, and could not even leave their homes without a close male relative. President George W. Bush used women’s rights as part of the justification for the war. Though some progress was made early on, Taliban restrictions on women have come back strong.
No Sex – No Food (What?)
The U.S. still claims that women’s rights in Afghanistan are a top priority, but it could be pretty words and nothing else. When former Afghan President Karzai signed a law legalizing marital rape and allowing men to withhold food from wives who refused sex, President Obama verbally condemned it. But no mention was made of withdrawing money if the law was not overturned.
There can be no real peace with honor if women are left out. Even though the Afghan constitution guarantees women’s rights, let’s hope President Obama urges President Ghani to include women when they meet. Without women at the table, women’s rights will be an empty promise if peace is ever negotiated.