KABUL (Reuters) - As Afghanistan’s most powerful men arrive in Kabul for a major conference aimed at starting a peace process with the Taliban, many women are worried the event could lead to a compromise of their hard-won rights.
Afghanistan is holding a peace jirga or an assembly of powerful leaders, tribal elders and representatives of civil society to consider plans to open talks with Taliban leaders in an effort to end the nine-year conflict.
A possible return of the Taliban has touched off concern about the fate of women who were banned from schools, the work place and public life during the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
“I would not expect the peace jirga to do anything good for women. My hope is that it will recognize their presence and protect their rights equally to men, as presented in the constitution,” said Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a leading women’s rights activist in Kabul.
“I’m really tired of this strategy and plans and jargon. I’d like to see activists from all 34 provinces to come to Kabul and plan a much deeper understanding of what should be done in the future for women,” she said.
The Taliban and other key insurgent factions such as Hezb-i-Islami have not been formally invited to the peace jirga but organizers have said any party that wants to be involved will be welcomed and insurgent supporters are expected to attend.
Women at the peace jirga so far represent a very small number of the 1,400 seats at the event. Between 30 and 50 women are expected to attend, but none are involved in its planning.
“There is a symbolic representation of Afghan women, The organizing committee has no women in its structure, only one or two have been identified to be facilitators,” said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chair of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.
“The positions of women in high-ranking roles have been significantly overshadowed ... One could be cynical and say that the reason there are so few women is to encourage the Taliban to come,” he said.
The Taliban, who are waging an insurgency that is at its deadliest in years, have in the past rejected any moves for talks, saying foreign forces must first leave Afghanistan. They continue to advocate a strict interpretation of Islamic law and have stepped up attacks on schools for girls in recent weeks.
Afghan women say their position in society and in politics is still very fragile and the small advances that have been made in recent years can be easily reversed.
Twenty-year old Safian Farahmand-Amiry is a business studies student who was born in Kabul. She grew up under the Taliban.
“I have very bitter memories of the Taliban. I should be in the third year of university, but I’m not, I’m in my first year because of the Taliban, I want Afghanistan to be better than this,” she said.
“I’m sure that if the peace jirga goes as it should, it will be good, if it will help make Afghanistan stable, free and just ... If the Taliban are given a share in the government, I’m worried that those (laws) could come back,” she said.
Liza Karimi is a 19-year old announcer for Afghanistan’s state broadcaster. She spent her childhood living in Moscow and moved back to Afghanistan with her mother four years ago.
“I think that from what I’ve heard about that regime, we should be worried. We could end up giving-up positions that should belong to women. That shouldn’t happen,” Liza said.
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