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Making Peace With the Taliban Will Come at a Steep Price — Further suppression of women’s rights in Afghanistan

Selected reports and commentary

by sacw.net, 24 June 2010

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The Guardian, 23 June 2010

Afghan peace process offers little hope for women

Sacrificing women’s rights to secure peace will leave us back where we were 10 years ago

by Wazhma Frogh

"If the conflict is to be wound down, real compromises will have to be made on the constitution, women’s rights and civil liberties." These are the words of an editorial comment in Afghan Scene, a magazine written by and mainly for the international community in Afghanistan.

After years of fierce fighting and numerous counterinsurgency initiatives, the Afghan government and some of its international allies seem to have reached to the peak of desperation. They are now even exploring whether Afghan women’s rights can be sacrificed in order to declare "mission accomplished".

The idea of subsuming women’s rights so that the war can end has come in formal and informal talks between some parliamentarians, government officials and is also reported to be part of cynical discussions among some of the international diplomats in Kabul gatherings.

Many women activists believe the growing Talibanisation of the Afghan government will not only bring further instability, as it could upset the diverse ethnic composition of Afghanistan, but also predict that they will pay for this political settlement with their rights.

Despite receiving promises from the members of the international community and the Afghan government about the so-called "red lines" of talks with the Taliban, women activists are concerned that recent developments are step-by-step moves towards the loss of women’s rights.

The Afghan peace jirga earlier this month legitimised criminal aspects of the insurgency by referring to offenders merely as political "angry brothers". It ensured that impunity will continue – for example, through the formation of a commission to review the cases of militant prisoners.

In the past two weeks, according to Afghan national television, around 15 ex-combatants have been released from two prisons in Parwan and Kabul. The longest trial that took place was four hours.

Women activists fear that the judiciary is not equipped to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. As a result, notorious war criminals and human rights violators will be released under this political settlement, including the men that threw acid in the faces of girls in Kandahar, those who assassinated the senior police officer, Malalai Kakar, and those militants who continue to target girls’ schools.

The same peace plan also allows the militants to keep their guns even though they embrace the reintegration mechanisms. This is of great risk for the women of Afghanistan, who have been oppressed, killed and tortured by the power of guns during the civil war and afterwards.

It appears that the government is over-ambitious in this talk of political settlement with the militants, and the new commission is more political than legal, so it will serve political agendas. The president has used his powers to pardon prisoners, as we witnessed in the past – including criminal elements of the insurgency who were responsible for kidnapping rackets. It is questionable whether the commission will be just and transparent amid the corruption and growing nepotism of the state.

The former chief of the Afghan intelligence services has shared his concerns over the political pressure of the quick release of militants in the past few years. He called the Pul e Charkhi central prison a "terror camp" where militants and terrorists are too easily freed to go back to militancy.

Women activists are concerned that this short-termist approach to "peace" will not only be a threat to justice but will also create further opportunities for more corruption and nepotism within the Afghan government.

The overarching concern is the impact of such a strategy in the short and long run. If dangerous criminal militants are easily freed, what does this mean for societal welfare and security in the first place? Does it not call into question the overall "counterinsurgency" operations?

While these developments reflect looming threats for the women of Afghanistan, the argument of sacrificing their rights has been created for purposes of the peace programme. But Afghanistan has the second largest maternal mortality rate in the world. More than half of school-age girls are not able to go school and those who dare to go are too often threatened by insecurity and school attacks.

Women in politics are taking risks with their lives (those who threaten or kill them rarely go punished), while the new election law gives their seats to a man if they don’t run for office due to security reasons. The media rarely covers the conditions for women in the central and northern provinces who are plagued with hunger and poverty because they do not relate to the counterinsurgency initiatives.

It is in these circumstances that we are being asked to sacrifice. As one activists from the Afghan Women’s Networks said: "We have sacrificed for the past 30 years with our lives and rights and the men were the ones who killed and ruined. We are also not so privileged that our government will fight for us – therefore it is time for them to sacrifice their powers and give up creating more violence and injustices for women."

There is a humanitarian call for the international community members struggling for stability and governance in Afghanistan to unify their voices as the plight of women gets murkier. There is a stronger need for further accountability on the part of the Afghan government before we end up in the same Afghanistan that we were in 10 years ago.

Alternet, 2 June 2010

FACTBOX Afghan women after the Taliban

Source: Reuters

June 2 (Reuters) - Hundreds of influential Afghans have arrived in Kabul for a peace jirga — a large assembly — aimed at starting a peace process with the Taliban.

The policy is largely driven by the Afghan government but has the green light from Washington which is preparing for a gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan starting July 2011.

The Taliban and other key insurgent groups have not been formally invited to the jirga but their supporters are expected to attend. Some activists are worried that any negotiations with such groups could lead to a forfeiting of women’s rights.

Following are some facts about women in Afghanistan.

RIGHTS AFTER THE TALIBAN

For five years under the Taliban’s Islamist regime, women were banned from education and work. Since the Taliban fell in 2001, women’s rights have significantly improved.

But in southern and eastern provinces women are often governed by very traditional practices. In rural communities wives are strong figureheads in their households, but it is still taboo for women and girls to go to school or work.

Afghan women are still among the worst off in the world and violence and rape against them is a "huge problem", according to the United Nations.

Forced marriage, often of young girls, is still common in some rural areas where traditional and religious ways of settling disputes are still practiced where the government is weak.

There have been many reports of families of young girls who have been raped, being forced to sell their daughter to her rapist because their community decides it is the only way her family can recover from the shame of the rape, the U.N. has said.

Last year a law for Afghanistan’s minority Shi’a Muslims caused international outcry because one of its articles were seen as permitting marital rape.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the law "abhorant" and it was eventually reviewed by President Hamid Karzai and its contentious articles were changed.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS

Karzai’s first cabinet after being elected president in 2004 contained three women ministers and he had a female vice president.

That number went down after last year’s election and Karzai has still not finalised his line-up of ministers. So far there are two female ministers and one acting minister. The women’s affair’s ministry has always been led by a woman.

The Afghan parliament uses a quota system to ensure that at least 25 percent of seats are given to women.

While affirmative action is seen as necessary by many, some have complained that in many provinces women get seats purely based on their gender and many would not otherwise get a seat because their actual votes are so low.

Outside of Afghanistan’s urban centres such as Kabul and Herat, where Afghanistan’s only female chief prosecutor works, Afghan women are poorly represented in local government.

Last year, however, the first female city mayor of Afghanistan was appointed to work in the province of Daikundi, a very remote and impoverished central Afghan province.

Women are also not immune from accusations of corruption or getting jobs based on who their male relatives are. Some MPs have complained that some women have government jobs or are lawmakers based on who their male relatives are.

HEALTH

Afghanistan has the second worst maternal mortality rate in the world, after Sierra Leone. The United Nation’s agency for women in Afghanistan has said that for many women in the country, becoming pregnant is akin to having a potentially fatal illness.

For every 100,000 live births, 1,600 women die.

Poverty, a tough terrain in many parts of the country, a shortage of female medical staff and cultural practices have contributed to Afghanistan’s high maternal mortality rate.

In the remote northeastern province of Badakhshan the problem is most acute. It has the worst maternal mortality rate in the world: there are 6,500 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Although the number of midwives has increased over the past few years, it still significantly undershoots the 8,000 needed to help bring down the level of maternal mortality, the U.N. said.

EDUCATION

The number of girls and women in education since the 1980s, before the country slipped into war, has soared — spiking after 2001 when the Taliban were deposed.

Figures from the ministry of women’s affairs collated in 2007 show that just 24 percent of girls were in secondary education and the drop-out rate increases from the first to the last grade.

Cultural and religious practices still prevent many girls from from going to schools, especially in rural areas, according to the United Nations.

Even in Kabul, a relatively progressive city, compared with other parts of Afghanistan girls are often harassed and bullied by young men for attending school.

According to the ministry of education between January 2006 and December 2008, there were 1,153 attacks on schools, from small arms explosions to death threats. The majority of attacks, 40 percent, were carried out against girls schools.

In the past year there has been a spate of suspected gas attacks on girls schools and acid attacks on girls. The Taliban have said they are not involved. (Sources: World Health Organisation, Reuters reports, UNIFEM, World Bank, Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Afghan Ministry of Education) (Reporting by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

AlertNet news is provided by Reuters

BBC News 2 June 2010

Fears for rights of Afghan women over peace talks

A three day national peace conference has begun in the Afghan capital, Kabul, but the 1600 delegates have already received death threats from the Taliban.

Rocket attacks and gunfire, close to the meeting, coincided with President Hamid Karzai’s opening speech.

The aim of the talks is to create a framework for any future negotiations with the militants.

A lot is resting on these talks and there are plenty of worries. There are fears from human rights groups that the gains made in the past nine years may be jeopardised if there is a deal at the peace gathering.

Some think that the rights of women may be eroded.

Martin Patience reports.

The Guardian, 10 May 2010

Hamid Karzai is failing Afghan women

Afghanistan’s president doesn’t seem to understand that without the inclusion of women there will be no lasting peace

by Anber Raz

The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is hosting a "peace jirga" in Kabul at the end of this month. Its purpose, he told a news conference, will be to "get guidance from the Afghan people on how to move forward reintegration and reconciliation, where reconciliation may be possible" with the Taliban.

The decision to reintegrate the Taliban by offering so-called "moderate" members government jobs and money was taken earlier this year by Karzai, with the backing of the international community at a conference held in London.

Conspicuously missing and deliberately excluded from the London conference were the women of Afghanistan. Despite the Afghan government’s refusal to include them in the delegation, a number of Afghan women made their own way to London to try to have their voices heard. After much pressure, one was allowed to address the conference for a couple of minutes. The message of the women was loud and clear: they were not prepared to see their rights sacrificed and did not support the plan to give positions of power to the Taliban. The Taliban have many differing aims, but one thing has remained consistent: their opposition to women’s rights and equality.

Karzai has stated that any Taliban coming into the system would have to abide by the constitution – a constitution that guarantees equality between women and men.

But when Karzai met with a leading Afghan militant group last March as part of the process leading up to reintegration, one of its main demands was for a new constitution – so you may forgive the women of Afghanistan for fearing the worst.

Karzai’s own record has not shown him to be a champion of the constitution. Women’s lack of access to justice is lamentable, the law enforcement system ineffective or corrupt and Karzai himself was willing to facilitate a tremendous backward step for women when he was prepared to sign a law which would have legalised marital rape and prevented Shia women from leaving their homes without the consent of their husband. His pardoning of three men convicted of gang rape sent another terrifying signal that women’s rights are dispensable.

Activists in Afghanistan who have expressed concern that the reintegration of the Taliban would further erode the rights they have managed to secure are being dismissed by the government as anti-peace. As women’s rights activist Wazhma Frogh states: "The preservation of these achievements is important no matter how nominal they might appear to the rest of the world. This is because no peace can ever be brought without justice."

It appears that of the 1,200 Afghans who Karzai says will be welcomed at the peace jirga, a mere 115 will be women – far less than even the 27% reservation for women in parliament (a quota that Karzai has been rumoured to be trying to abolish.)

The Afghan government has a duty to involve women in all the implementation mechanisms of peace agreements and conflict resolution under UN security council resolution 1325, which recognises the critical role of women in promoting peace and security and calls for increased representation of women in decision-making.

The few women who are given the opportunity to take part in public life as parliamentarians, in local governance, the media and public administration do so at their own risk. The Afghan government has done little to protect women in public life. Yet another woman provincial council member, Nida Khayani, was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt last month.

Women must not only be included in decision-making but must also be given the necessary protection to enable them to take part. As Afghan human rights activist Orzala Ashraf stated at the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security in London last January, it’s not that the women of Afghanistan are weak and can’t stand up for their country, but that they are not being given an opportunity or platform to do so.

While the warlords, the Taliban and corrupt government officials fight for power in Afghanistan, excluding the voices of women fighting for peace and justice means that true progress is unlikely. The women of Afghanistan who oppose reintegration of the Taliban are not anti-peace and do not want to see their country continuing on a downward spiral of violence. However, they no longer want to be the sacrificial lambs in a game of politics which has nothing to do with the welfare of the people of Afghanistan.

Lasting peace cannot be achieved without the inclusion of the women of Afghanistan. Their concerns about this plan for reconciliation and reintegration are legitimate and must be taken seriously.

As archbishop Desmond Tutu, head of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said: "Reconciliation is not about being cosy; it is not about pretending that things were other than they were. Reconciliation based on falsehood, on not facing up to reality, is not reconciliation and will not last".