We are going to highlight the role of women in the Afghan peace process, through this article. This study seeks to examine the role of Afghan women in the peace process. Moreover, why is there a need for a key role of women in the peace process?
“Women received the right to vote in the 1920s; and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided for equality for women. There was a mood of tolerance and openness as the country began moving towards democracy. Women were making important contributions to national development. In 1977, women comprised over 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body. During the early 1990s, women in Kabul constituted, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors. Afghan women had an active role in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work.”
In 1996, While in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban became notorious internationally for their sexism and violence against women. Their stated motive was to create a “secure environment where the chastity and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct”
Afghan Women Under Systematic Segregation
In systematic segregation sometimes referred to as gender apartheid, women were not allowed to work, they were not allowed to be educated after the age of eight, and until then were permitted only to study the Qur’an.
From the age of eight onward, girls in Afghanistan were not allowed to be in direct contact with males other than a close “blood relative”, husband, or in-law (Mahram). Other restrictions for women were:
- Women should not appear in the streets without a blood relative or wearing a burqa.
- Women should not wear high-heeled shoes as no man should hear their footsteps lest it excite him.
- Females must not speak loudly in public as no stranger should hear a woman’s voice.
- Ground and first-floor residential windows required paint or screening. This was way women could not be visible from the streets.
- In books, shops, newspapers and even homes, females pictures could not be displayed.
- The modification of any place names that included the word “women”. For example, “spring garden” was the new name of “women’s garden”.
- Women could not go on the balconies of their apartments or houses.
- Ban on women’s presence on radio, television, or at public gatherings of any kind.
During the Taliban regime, Afghan women face many restrictions. Moreso, the Taliban also curtailed their freedom. After the 9/11 attacks, U.S President George W. Bush vows to “win the war against terrorism,” and later zeros in on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bush eventually calls on the Taliban regime to “deliver to the United States authorities all the leaders of al-Qaeda who hide in your land,”
Bombing Campaign on Taliban
October 7, 2001, The Opening Salvo, The U.S. military, with British support, begins a bombing campaign against Taliban forces, officially launching Operation Enduring Freedom. Canada, Australia, Germany, and France pledge future support. The war’s early phase mainly involved U.S. airstrikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces that are assisted by a partnership of about one thousand U.S. special forces, the Northern Alliance, and ethnic Pashtun anti-Taliban forces. After the fall of the Taliban regime, President George W. Bush calls for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute. “By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall,”. The U.S. Congress appropriated over $38 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009.
Bonn Conference and its Role in Afghanistan
In 2001, the United States and the international community, in cooperation with other countries in the region, established an interim government in Afghanistan through the Bonn Conference on December 5, 2001.
The agreement reportedly reached with substantial Iranian diplomatic help because Iran supported the Northern Alliance faction, installs Hamid Karzai as interim administration head, and creates an international peacekeeping force to maintain security in Kabul. The UN Security Council Resolution 1386 on December 20. This was before the Bonn Agreement. It established the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.
Following the establishment of the Interim Administration, the new constitution (An assembly of 502 Afghan delegates agrees on a constitution for Afghanistan, creating a strong presidential system intended to unite the country’s various ethnic groups in 2004). enacted rapid reforms in the areas of freedom of expression, protecting citizens’ rights, especially women. It is a positive step toward a democratically based society. “Afghans have seized the opportunity provided by the United States and its international partners to lay the foundation for democratic institutions and provide a framework for national elections,” declares U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.
Improvement in Afghan Women’s Rights
Women’s rights have gradually improved under the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and women are once again equal to men under the 2004 post-Taliban constitution, which was largely based on that from 1964.
The Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, promulgated by President Hamid Karzai in 2009, criminalized rape for the first time in Afghanistan’s history. Protection of women from violence is the responsibility of the state. This includes forced and underage marriage and physical and verbal abuse.
In addition, under the 2001 Bonn Agreement, Afghanistan was scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004 to replace the interim government led by western-backed Hamid Karzai since his appointment in December 2001.
Presidential elections were held in 2004 and President Mr. Hamid Karzai won the election with 55.4% of the votes and three times more votes than any other candidate. but parliamentary elections were not held until mid-September 2005.
Afghanistan held parliamentary and provincial council elections on September 18, 2005. more than 6 million Afghans turn out to vote for the Wolesi Jirga (Council of People), the provincial council (which elects the members of Meshrano Jirga). This election was considered the most democratic election ever in Afghanistan. Women constituted nearly half of those casting ballots. This was viewed as a sign of political progress in a highly patriarchal and conservative society. The female members of Afghanistan’s Wolasi Jirga had 68 out of 249 seats. Whereas, in Mashrano Jirga, women reserved 23 out of 102.
International Involvement in Fight Against Human Rights
The United States and NATO have fought for 18 years to support human rights and the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. After 18 years of fighting, On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement in Doha, Qatar officially titled the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan. China, Russia and Pakistan supported the deal. Although it did not involve the government of Afghanistan. The United States has committed to a phased, conditions-based withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan within 14 months of signing the accord. The U.S. said safeguarding Afghan women’s rights was part of the reason to fight the Taliban. Now rights advocates fear women’s hard-won gains are at risk.
Afghanistan has secured, freedom of expression, democracy, rights of children and women. This is with the support of the international community and especially the United States within the past 20 years. However, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has worried some Afghan women. They worry that they may not return to the Taliban era.
Withdrawal of Forces
In January 2021, the Trump Administration reported that it had reduced U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 2,500. This is the lowest level since 2001. The action is in advance of the potential full military withdrawal by May 2021. The United States committed to this in February 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement.
Moreover, on April 14, 2021, former U.S president Joe Bidden made a statement. He acknowledged that war in Afghanistan was never meant to be multi-generational. “After consulting closely with; our allies and partners, our military leaders and intelligence personnel, our diplomats and our development experts, the Congress and the vice president, with (Afghan President Ashraf Ghani) and many others around the world, I concluded that it’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home”.
After the agreement between the United States and the Taliban. The US-backed Peace talks started in September 2020 in Doha, Qatar. That occurred between officials from the Afghan state (Republicans negotiator team) and the Taliban (Islamic Emirate negotiator team).
Will Peace Talks Guarantee the Achievements of The Last 18 Years in the Field of Women’s Rights?
Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2003, Afghan society has made great strides in advancing women’s emancipation and rights. There are now 3.3 million girls in education, and women are politically, economically, and socially engaged. Despite the ongoing conflict, Afghan women have become lawyers; doctors, judges, teachers, engineers, athletes, activists, politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, business owners, police officers, and members of the military.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHR) conducted a study. The results suggested that Afghan women are concerned about losing their rights in the peace talks. At least 4,000 women were interviewed in 14 provinces during this study. The interviewees have raised their concerns about losing their rights and freedoms in the peace talks.
So how can the rights of Afghan women be protected in the peace process? What can be done to protect the rights of Afghan women during and after the peace talks? Undoubtedly, this guarantee can only be granted if Afghan women have a broader role in peace talks to defend their rights. This role isn’t symbolic but women’s involvement is required in the decision-making process.
Afghan Women in Afghan Peace Process
There are only 4 women in the Afghan Peace negotiating team. An Afghan women activist and peace negotiation team member Ms. Fawzia Kofi reported this. She stated in a webinar conducted by Pak-Afghan Youth Forum; “We have 4 women out of 21 members in peace negotiation team. This is a good number. However, we could still have more women because this peace process in Afghanistan is actually about women.”
Findings from the literature indicate that between 1990 and 2014, 130 peace agreements came into place. However, only 13 peace agreements had women in a signatory authority. All of which were more durable than the agreements only signed by men.
Bargaining for women’s rights at the negotiating table with a low presence of Afghan women will be counterproductive. This percentage is not enough and needs to be strengthened. We believe that the peace process is directly related to women’s rights. Therefore, there will be consequences, if the peace process does not guarantee the existing rights of women. Hence, excluding the rights of nearly half the population, may have adverse effects in the post-peace era.
Women’s rights must be one of the priorities in the peace process. Also, women’s rights aren’t for bargaining with the Taliban. Representation on the negotiating team can ensure an inclusive and peaceful future. However, there’s been a lot of debate over the formation of a negotiating team. We live in a country where making decisions without considering ethnic and linguistic elements is a difficult task.
However, if we really want the rights of all our citizens protected after peace, our leaders must put their national interests as a priority. They should place it before linguistic, ethnic, and party interests. This negotiating team should consist of equal participation of women and men. Since this hasn’t occurred, at least existing women should possess enough decision-making authority. Afghan women must make their own decisions to guarantee and protect their rights.