Afghan Women Fear Violence in National 'Peace'

Sunday, March 7, 2010

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 calls for women to be involved in peace talks. But Afghan women--after a series of setbacks--place little faith in that. They're mounting their own push for inclusion at a spring meeting of national leaders.

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Nargis Nehan (left) being interviewed by Medea Benjamin, founding member of Code Pink.KABUL, Afghanistan (WOMENSENEWS)--Women's rights activists here fear a "peace deal" brewing with the Taliban may bring more violence into their lives.

To avert that, they are focused on the peace "jirga"--a gathering of traditional leaders--planned for this spring or summer.

Hundreds of women belonging to more than 70 women's organizations are battling for more than quota-style representation at the upcoming jirga.

"Before the jirga we have to make sure the right women get into the process," said Nargis Nehan, director of Equality for Peace and Democracy, a civil society group working with women and young people in Kabul. "Women must not be there just as a women's group, but must be represented through tribal groups, civil society groups, parliament, the private sector and government."

Nehan is also a representative to a regional peace commission set up a year ago by female peace activists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India that has convened twice, once in Kabul and once in New Delhi.

"Will the right women be there?" asked Palwasha Hassan, a founding member of Afghan Women's Network and country director of a Canadian funded pro-democracy group, in a recent interview.

Hassan was recently nominated by President Hamid Karzai to head the women's ministry, but she was rejected by a parliament that appeared hostile to her liberal background.

Since the beginning of this year, architects of national reconciliation have increasingly assumed that negotiations with the Taliban are necessary to end a conflict characterized by intensifying fighting and spreading violence.

However, Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director, says that's dangerous for women.

"The Taliban established a terrible record of violating human rights during their rule and they have done nothing since then to indicate they will act differently if they return to power," Zarifi said in a statement in January, issued ahead of a conference in London for donor nations and the Afghan government to discuss a new strategy for Afghanistan.

Similar Deals Increased Violations

Similar deals with the Taliban in neighboring Pakistan, Amnesty said, led to increased human rights violations. Under successive deals in areas of Pakistan's northwest frontier, ceasefires and government troops allowed Taliban forces to move in and occupy areas where they have banned girls' education, banned music and instituted summary justice like flogging, beating and even executions for those who flout their restrictions.

In addition to planning a peace jirga, early steps toward national reconciliation include the institution of an internationally funded trust fund to pay off foot soldiers of the insurgent movement.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 calls for the inclusion of women in any peace negotiation, but Afghan women fear little, or hollow, enforcement.

More international attention is being paid to whether insurgent leaders will be present at the peace jirga than whether women will find a place. Women, after all, pose no threat to security.

Only one Afghan woman, for instance--Arzo Qanih, a member of the Afghan Women's Network--was invited to attend the London peace-planning conference in January.

"Women's engagement is not an optional extra component of stabilization and recovery," Qanih told the gathering. "It is a critical precursor to success." In any negotiations, she said, women's rights must be protected.

Increasingly Insecure Environment

Afghan women face an increasingly insecure environment with a growing trend of violence against women in public life, according to a July 2009 report by the U.N.'s human rights office in Afghanistan.

Violence against women, the report found, was being perpetrated not just by anti-government forces, but also by "local traditional and religious power-holders, women's own families and communities and in some instances government authorities."

In a December report, Human Rights Watch also flagged the weakening of women's rights. "The insecurity Afghans face comes not only from the insurgency, but also from abuses by so-far untouchable government officials and warlords," the report said.

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well, far as i know, taliban are not big upholders of what we here in the u.s. would define as rights (of any kind).