Afghan women warn against possible deal with Taliban

LONDON (Reuters) - Groups representing Afghan women warned the international community Wednesday against pursuing a peace deal with the Taliban, fearing a return to the austere Islamist rule that saw women banned from education and work.

Women from a United Nations agency, the Institute for Inclusive Security and other rights’ groups told reporters in London that the progress made since 2001 should not be jeopardized by courting conservative elements.

Some 60 countries are to attend a conference on Afghanistan in London Thursday which has been preceded by a groundswell of support for an eventual political settlement with the Taliban movement which ruled from Kabul from 1996 till U.S.-led forces toppled the hardline Islamists after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The Afghan women’s groups urged the nations attending the conference to adhere to commitments to women’s rights in 2001.

“I have great fears, and I am greatly confused,” Homa Sabri, national officer-in-charge for UNIFEM Afghanistan, the U.N.’s women’s fund, told Reuters.

“2001 was a very clear signal that there is no more room for conservative elements to rule in Afghanistan,” she said.

She questioned how the international community could now regard dealing with these elements as acceptable, and how it could guarantee peaceful integration in a future government.

Women in Afghanistan have managed to secure some rights during the past nine years, but they still suffer from violence and intimidation as well as low literacy levels, poor access to health care and a fair justice system, they said.

While a parliamentary quota system exists to ensure women are represented in politics, it is only 25 percent, and only one of the three female names put forward for ministerial posts was approved.

Concerned at the absence of women’s perspectives at the London conference, they said sustainable peace will not be achieved without women’s full participation in Afghanistan’s politics and society.

They said women represent half the society, and argued they can provide half the solution. Women can also “spearhead efforts to moderate extremism” in the home, they added.

The women called for greater female representation in any peace process, at least 25 percent; access to jobs in the security services, including the police and for aid to be monitored to track its effectiveness in promoting women’s rights and gender equality.

“Achieving true security will require more than military stabilization; it will require women’s freedom of movement and access to basic services,” they said in a statement.

“Additionally, it will necessitate social change in private as well as public life.”

Editing by Jon Hemming