To work for the peace process, Afghan women must be involved

The recent developments and peace talk to end the 18 years
of war in Afghanistan have made Afghans optimist about
their future. After years of failure in gathering all sides of
the conflicts around one table, the ongoing US and Taliban talks which is aimed to facilitate the Afghan-led and owned peace process is considered a significant improvement. But the country’s women fear another—and related—possibility: That their hard-won rights to participate in the nation’s political and economic life could again be washed away by the Taliban’s rigid views on gender.
After the fall of the Taliban, many Afghan women, especially in major cities, saw huge and immediate improvements in the quality of their lives and access to the basic rights. Since then, the country has seen a steady increase in women’s education and entrepreneurship, as well as female activism in public and private spheres. Despite this noticeable progress and government’s continued support, women still worry about their role in the ongoing peace process.
As talks between the U.S. and the Taliban going on in Doha and raise hopes for peace in Afghanistan, a number of female civil activists and the Afghan Women’s Network during their meetings with government officials and US special envoy for reconciliation in Afghanistan, have asked for their role in peace process, saying they should be aware of any peace talks. They have asked for protecting their rights under the country’s constitution as well as noted in the 1325 UN resolution.
The government of Afghanistan has always showed its determination for peace and women’s inclusion in the process and even allocated seats for women in the government peace delegation for talks with Taliban. President Ghani has also time and again emphasized on women’s increasing role within government and in the decision-making processes, calling women’s role as destiny making in all national processes and pledged that no one would be allowed to decide for them in their absence.
Indeed, the inclusion of women is not just about putting female faces at the negotiating table. It means bringing the perspectives of more than half of the population into the peace process. It is about making sure the rights, concerns and contributions of women are considered at every turn and communicated forcefully in closed-door meetings with the government and the Taliban and with other insurgent groups. Any political settlement, power-sharing plan or proposed constitutional reform will affect every aspect of women’s lives, and they must have a seat at the table.
To preserve women’s gains and block extremist groups from imposing their view of women’s rights, Afghans negotiating with the Taliban, as well as the international community, must take seriously the red lines set down by Afghan women. It is important to focus simultaneously on women’s right to participate in the process; have their rights protected in any agreement; and ensure that adequate institutional mechanisms and resources are available to implement and uphold the terms of an agreement.
Women’s rights groups and NGOs have played a pivotal role in providing legal, social, economic, educational, health and psychological services to millions of Afghan men and women. The agreement must explicitly allow these groups to continue operating without restriction; their staff must be further empowered and protected from persecution and unjust treatment in the name of Sharia or local traditions.
If an end to the conflict is the genuine goal of the warring parties and their backers, they will respond to women’s demands and place women at the center, not the margins of their efforts.

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