GENEVA Women's rights in Afghanistan risk being further undermined in the fragile country's peace process due to entrenched patriarchal attitudes, a United Nations watchdog warned on Monday.
Afghan women have made hard-fought gains in education and work since the collapse of the Taliban government in 2001, but fears are growing these could suffer a reversal when most foreign forces leave by the end of next year.
The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said the Afghan authorities had promised it that women would be able to participate in the peace talks, thereby rejecting Taliban demands for them to be excluded.
"We have had official assurances ... I would like to consider a government's word as credible," Nicole Ameline, committee chair, told a news briefing.
But the committee of independent experts voiced concern that "women's interests and needs may be compromised in the peace negotiations due to deep rooted patriarchal attitudes".
In addition, meaningful participation by women in the peace process is jeopardized by the fact that there are only nine women in the 70-member High Peace Council, the Afghan body created in 2010 to broker peace with the Taliban.
"We have 18 months (before the NATO withdrawal) that consist of a turning point and we have to be absolutely mobilized," said Ameline, a former French minister.
"There could be backsliding and we cannot accept that."
The committee said there was already an increasing number of attacks on girls' schools by Taliban groups opposed to their education, with girls falling ill in school from suspected poisoning in some instances.
Afghanistan has a "high prevalence of violence against women", marked by domestic violence, rapes, stoning, and so-called honor crimes, the U.N. committee said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)