Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Reintegrating the Taliban: where does it leave Afghan women?
At Thursday’s London conference on Afghanistan, some 60 countries will to try flesh out the details for a plan to gradually hand security to Afghans, which involves strengthening and expanding Afghan security forces, improving the way donor aid to Afghanistan is spent and reintegrating Taliban fighters. But where do women fit into these plans, especially if the Taliban are to be involved?
The plan, which has been tried in the past without much success, would involve luring low-level Taliban from the insurgency using jobs and money to re-join Afghan society. There has also been much talk, particularly in the media, about the possibility of dialogue or negotiations with the Taliban.
But many Afghan women, who remember very clearly what life was like under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, are outraged by the idea.
On Wednesday, groups representing Afghan women warned the international community against pursuing a peace deal with the Taliban. “I have great fears, and I am greatly confused … 2001 was a very clear signal that there is no more room for conservative elements to rule in Afghanistan,” Homa Sabri of the United Nation’s agency for women, UNIFEM, told Reuters in London.
The women at the meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the conference, also called for greater female representation in any peace process and better access to jobs in the security services and the monitoring of aid which is destined for programmes promoting women’s rights.
The condition of women has improved in the past eight years, but they are still frustratingly far from being able to succeed in public life, even when they are much better qualified than men.
Earlier this month, the rejection by Afghanistan’s parliament of two women who President Hamid Karzai nominated to be ministers in his new cabinet, provided a stark and rather sobering reminder of just how difficult it still is for Afghan women to succeed independently and how, in some ways, little beyond rules about the burqa has changed.
While being allowed to go to school and getting a job are great achievements that have not only been a boon to human rights but have also helped Afghanistan’s economy, women are still severely limited in their ability to integrate into the man’s world of politics, where major decisions regarding health, education and the law are made.
The women in question, Dr Suraya Dalil and Palwasha Hassan, were chosen by Karzai after his first list of candidates was criticised for having too few women and women’s rights advocates lobbied hard on their behalf. Dalil is a Harvard-educated medical doctor who has worked for the United Nations in Nairobi. She had her fair share of backers in parliament too. She has worked for years on issues of child and maternal health — two areas where Afghanistan has huge problems. So what happened?
Dalil was politically independent and declared to parliament when she submitted her programme for the Ministry of Public Health her lack of partiality to any group. Hassan also presented herself as an independent candidate and refrained from aligning herself with any of Afghanistan’s competing political factions. But she has a reputation for being outspoken about the importance of women’s rights. Something some lawmakers said would have also worked against her, but something which arguably would have been an asset in a job like Minister of Women’s Affairs, the portfolio Karzai chose her for.
Some campaigners have said Dalil’s and Palwasha’s transparency and their lack of allegiance to any powerbrokers or political bigwigs in Kabul — many of whom are incidentally under the spotlight in ongoing efforts to tackle widespread corruption — worked against them. But the bottom line is that they are women and that fact, above all else, decided their fate.