Peace In Afghanistan At What Cost To Its Women?

A burqa-clad Afghan woman carries a child through the old town area of Kabul, June 19, 2010. Afghan women worry that peace talks with the Taliban might result in a loss of rights they had slowly regained after the militants' harsh and restrictive rule.
A burqa-clad Afghan woman carries a child through the old town area of Kabul, June 19, 2010. Afghan women worry that peace talks with the Taliban might result in a loss of rights they had slowly regained after the militants' harsh and restrictive rule. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Afghanistan is moving toward peace talks with the Taliban that experts say are necessary to end the country's insurgency. But living under the harsh rule of the Taliban is a bitter memory for many Afghan women -- and a daily reality for others who live in places where the militants have control.

The top United Nations envoy in Afghanistan confirmed this week that at least 10 members of the Taliban are in the process of being removed from a U.N. blacklist at the request of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It's seen as a step toward peace talks that both military and political leaders agree is the only way to end the nine-year-long insurgency.

But a deal with the Taliban isn't appealing to everyone in Afghanistan, especially Afghan women.

Living under the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, is a bitter memory for many. And it is a daily reality for others, who live in parts of the country where the radical Islamists now have de facto control.

"Each day when I go outside, I think it could be my last," says a government employee in Kandahar who asked not to reveal her name.

She says she continues working, despite threats from the Taliban toward her specifically, and more generally all women who work outside the home or worse, who work in contact with foreigners.

For her security, she wears a burqa -- a different colored one each day -- and she says she never takes the same route to and from work. The woman says she is interested in peace coming to Afghanistan, but isn't sure that a deal with the Taliban would mean real peace for her.

The Taliban have made good on many of the threats against women.

Amnesia About Taliban Brutality

Rachel Reid, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, says that when the Taliban get control of an area the same kinds of abuses that occurred under Taliban rule emerge.

Reid has just released a report on the subject, "The Ten-Dollar Talib and Women's Rights." The title refers to the many Taliban insurgents who are believed to be fighting just for money -- and a small amount at that.

But it's not those Taliban who will be sitting at the negotiating table, Reid says. She says some in the international community are trying to forget how brutal the Taliban movement is toward women, because they're so impatient to reach a peace deal that will allow their troops to come home.

"I think there's a danger in this kind of revisionism about the nature of the movement that needs to be checked. Because if there's not more honesty about the nature of what we're dealing with, then there won't be a suitable deal carved out, and these kinds of issues won't be on the table in the negotiating time," she says.

A suitable deal is one that includes some guarantees of a woman's right to work, health care and education, Reid says.

Plenty of Afghan women echo her concerns.

'Hundreds Of Steps Backward'

Fawzia Kufi, a member of the Afghan parliament, says a deal with the Taliban movement would be a disaster and defeat the purpose of U.S. and coalition forces coming to Afghanistan in the first place.

"It means not only for me but for [all] the women of Afghanistan, hundreds of steps backward. Because, I assume one of the reasons for the international community to be in Afghanistan is the issues of women's rights, civil society, human rights. I guess this is one of the reasons [U.S.] taxpayers fund this war," she says.

Kufi says that the hardcore Taliban who would be at the table are also responsible for instability in the region, and she believes that they will not change their past behavior.

Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar says that the government is pushing ahead according to a plan.

The Afghan government should start negotiating "peaceful dialogue with all those who are ready to give up violence, to accept the constitution of Afghanistan, and who are ready to pursue their political ambitions through peaceful means ... and not connected with international terrorists," Omar says.

Afghan women are starting to notice that there is no stipulation about preserving women's rights, and Kufi, the lawmaker, says their concerns will always be the first thing bargained away.

"It's always easy to forget women," she says. "Because they don't have weapons, they can't fight. That's an easy compromise." Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

blog comments powered by Disqus