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Taliban peace talk plans lead Afghan women to fear loss of rights

24 June 2013

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The Guardian, 19 June 2013

Afghanistan’s women fear Taliban’s return to power would ’wipe away’ hard-won achievements of past 11 years

by Emma Graham-Harrison and Mokhtar Amiri

Afghanistan’s women fear loss of rights amid Taliban peace talks
Last month Afghan women urged parliamentarians to pass a bill protecting them from abuse. Photograph: S. Sabawoon/EPA

Even the dimmest prospect of peace would be welcome in most countries that have endured more than three decades of conflict, but news this week that the Taliban planned to sit down for peace talks with the US was met with trepidation by many in Afghanistan.

Women in particular are nervous, because Taliban rule was so bitter for them. They lost the right to an education, to most work, even to show their face in public.

After 10 years of slowly clawing back basic protections, the prospect of losing them again is terrifying, particularly for older women, who remember being confined to their homes.

"If they return to power in Afghanistan again, all the achievements of the past 11 years will be wiped away," said Aroozo Parwani, a 35-year-old teacher. "The doors of schools and universities will close in women’s faces. The duty of Afghan women is to make large protests all over the country and say we don’t want the Taliban back, or for them to have an office in Qatar."

The Taliban have changed in some ways, most obviously embracing television and other modern technology they once outlawed, to get their message across to followers and foes.

Some supporters of talks argue the group have modified their harsher attitudes to women too, while officials in Washington say the US will not broker a deal that does not protect the rights of women and minorities.

But it is hard to pin down the real policies and beliefs of a fragmented movement pushed into the shadows by the exigencies of fighting an insurgent war against a super-power and its allies, and there are fears the newfound enthusiasm for women’s learning will vanish when they gain power.

"There should be concrete terms for them to demonstrate the changes," said activist Palwasha Hassan. "Girls’ schools have been under attack, teachers have been killed, women leaders have been assassinated. The real change will show in stopping these actions ... we will remain concerned until the end." There are fears that deals cut in secret may undermine women, with mistrust of both the government and the Taliban negotiating teams.

These concerns were heightened after female lawmakers discovered this month that a group of conservative male colleagues had made a secret last-minute addition to a law they passed that cut dozens of government jobs for women.

"My wish is that ... they should keep the channels of negotiation as open as possible," said activist and academic Orzala Ashraf Nemat. "We deserve to know what is being negotiated on our behalf, there shouldn’t be secrets. The people of Afghanistan find themselves surprised often enough."

If talks do begin in earnest, women are keen to have serious representatives at the table, not just a token female face chosen because she can be trusted not to rock the boat.

"The voices of Afghan women are missing again from the whole rhetoric," tweeted the outspoken Wazhma Frogh after talks had been announced by the US and the Taliban, and then rejected by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a dramatic couple of days.

The focus on the Taliban office has also underlined Afghan women’s desire to ensure that as the search intensifies for a negotiated end to the war, their rights are not seen as a bargaining chip that can be traded in for peace.

"Its funny to suggest that peace and women’s rights are two (opposing) sides. The war is not happening because women are getting their basic rights," said Nemat. "Even if we go sit in our homes this war will not be over ... The cause of war is clear to every single person who sits around those negotiating tables, so why should we pay the price?"


The above article from The Guardian is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use