Women worry Afghan peace jirga will harm rights

* Women not adequately represented at peace jirga
* Concerns that women’s rights will be compromised
* Women given “symbolic” role to lure Taliban

As Afghanistan’s most powerful men arrived in Kabul for a major conference aimed at starting a peace process with the Taliban, many women are worried the event could lead to a compromise of their hard-won rights.

Afghanistan is holding a peace jirga or an assembly of powerful leaders, tribal elders and representatives of civil society to consider plans to open talks with Taliban leaders in an effort to end the nine-year conflict.

A possible return of the Taliban has touched off concern about the fate of women who were banned from schools, the work place and public life during the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. “I would not expect the peace jirga to do anything good for women. My hope is that it will recognise their presence and protect their rights equally to men, as presented in the constitution,” said Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a leading women’s rights activist in Kabul.

“I’m really tired of this strategy and plans and jargon. I’d like to see activists from all 34 provinces to come to Kabul and plan a much deeper understanding of what should be done in the future for women,” she said.

The Taliban and other key insurgent factions such as Hezb-i-Islami have not been formally invited to the peace jirga but organisers have said any party that wants to be involved will be welcomed and insurgent supporters are expected to attend.

Women at the peace jirga so far represent a very small number of the 1,400 seats at the event. Between 30 and 50 women are expected to attend, but none are involved in its planning.

“There is a symbolic representation of Afghan women, The organising committee has no women in its structure, only one or two have been identified to be facilitators,” said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chair of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.

“The positions of women in high-ranking roles have been significantly overshadowed … One could be cynical and say that the reason there are so few women is to encourage the Taliban to come,” he said.

The Taliban, who are waging an insurgency that is at its deadliest in years, have in the past rejected any moves for talks, saying foreign forces must first leave Afghanistan. They continue to advocate a strict intepretation of Islamic law and have stepped up attacks on schools for girls in recent weeks.

Afghan women say their position in society and in politics is still very fragile and the small advances that have been made in recent years can be easily reversed.

Part of a longer article at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SGE64N1PC.htm

See also some facts about women in Afghanistan after the Taliban

Peace with Criminals, War with People!
Statement of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) on “Consultative Peace Jirga”

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