Peace Effort With Taliban Is Excluding Women, Report Says

NOV. 24, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan women have been systematically excluded from the government’s efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban, according to a report released on Monday by the international aid group Oxfam.

The report, “Behind Closed Doors,” echoes complaints made by many female leaders here. Among the issues they cite are that they have long felt marginalized in the country’s nascent peace process, and that they are worried that Afghanistan’s leaders will reach an agreement to reconcile with religiously conservative insurgents that will wipe out gains made by the nation’s women.

“We’ve always been concerned about the threat that our leaders will trade women’s rights away for peace,” said Sara Surkhabi, a senator and one of nine women on the Afghan High Peace Council, which has 61 men. “We need to fight for our rights or we’ll lose all the advances we’ve won.”

There are more former Taliban members on the High Peace Council — at least 11, Ms. Surkhabi pointed out — than there are women. “Some of the old Taliban even oppose the participation of women in such meetings,” she said.

Oxfam’s report details 11 instances of direct or indirect peace talks between the international community and the Taliban or other insurgents since 2005, none of which had any confirmed participation by women. It also lists 16 such efforts carried out by the Afghan government, only three of which involved any female delegates, and those were fewer than 10 percent of the government representatives involved.

During the Taliban government, from the autumn of 1996 until late 2001, nearly all the rights of women were revoked: They were forbidden to work, attend school or leave their homes unaccompanied by a husband or close male relative. Since then, countries have repeatedly insisted that Taliban acceptance of the Afghan Constitution’s guarantee of women’s rights is a “red line,” a prerequisite for their participation in peace talks.

“The international community used women’s rights to help justify its presence in Afghanistan,” said John Watt, Oxfam’s director for Afghanistan. The group has long had a large presence in the country, including during the Taliban’s rule.

“Having brought about some improvements and investing more than $100 billion in aid, it would be a tragedy if progress was reversed,” Mr. Watt said. “As donors rush to the exit, Afghans should not have to worry that the world will forget promises made to Afghan women and allow women’s rights to be negotiated away.”

But that is what many women worry has been happening during efforts to start peace talks.

“Afghan Women’s Network has made repeated requests to be at the negotiating table because we do not want our rights to be sacrificed,” the report quoted Lida Nadery, a member of the network, the largest coalition of women’s groups in the country, as saying. “We are not included in any talks. We always find out after the meetings that there was contact but no one tells us what was discussed.”

The Oxfam report expresses concern that countries might compromise on some prerequisites for talks with the Taliban, including on women’s issues.

The report says the group interviewed an official at the American Embassy in Kabul in 2011 who played down the prerequisite regarding women. “We do recognize the need for protection of women’s rights,” the official said, according to the report. “But we can’t impose this as a prenegotiation red line because that will be counterproductive in getting to talks. Women’s issues are important, but they are not our top priority.”

An embassy spokeswoman, Monica Cummings, said on Monday, “That is not an accurate representation of U.S. policy.”

“We have made it very clear that any process with the Taliban or other insurgent groups must first include protection of women and minorities,” she continued. “Women’s rights have always been a top U.S. priority, and our policy on that has not changed.”

The report also expresses hope that the new government of President Ashraf Ghani will be more inclusive in its approach to peace negotiations. Mr. Ghani has pledged to bring more women into government, but he has so far made no concrete steps in that direction as negotiations on forming a new cabinet drag on.

“As the possibility of a new round of peace talks gains momentum under a new Afghan government,” Mr. Watt said, “Oxfam is concerned that a sustainable peace agreement will not be possible if women are denied a stake in negotiations.”

Oxfam’s report calls on the government to guarantee that at least 30 percent of all future peace delegates be women, including members of the High Peace Council. It also asks that Afghan women’s views be included in a current high-level review of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which urges that women be represented in all peace talks worldwide.

Ms. Surkhabi said there was a practical reason for such inclusion. “Women want peace more than men do,” she said.

A version of this article appears in print on November 25, 2014, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Peace Effort With Taliban Is Excluding Women, Report Says. 

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