By Aunohita Mojumdar
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.
The Afghan government has promised that any peace treaty will respect the constitution's guarantees of equality for women.
Since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban, women have entered the work force, joined electoral politics and taken jobs in the government.
Under the constitution, Afghan women have the same rights to voting, education and political participation as men. An article of the constitution mandates at least two female representatives from each of the country's 34 provinces.
The shakiness of such provisions was highlighted in August 2009, however, when Karzai, backed by Parliament, signed off on a Shia personal status law that subordinates women. Provisions that required a wife to ask permission to leave the house except on urgent business and a requirement that a wife have sex with her husband at least once every four days were dropped amid local and international outcry.
But the law still permits husbands to deny food and sustenance to their wives if they refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands, grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work, according to Human Rights Watch.
In February, a presidential electoral ordinance sought to reduce the representation of women in parliament from a minimum of two seats in each province of the country to a maximum of two seats. The final law restored the earlier, minimum, provision, but underscored the fragility of the gains women fought to be enshrined by the constitution, ratified in 2004.
Hassan's rejection by Parliament adds to the unease.
Women's activist circles have been buzzing over what they understood to be hostile questions Hassan faced in parliament, which gets little press coverage and for which there are no readily accessible record of proceedings.
In an interview with Women's eNews, Hassan said members of parliament questioned her knowledge of Islam, whether she would enforce 'hijab' (head covering for a woman) and the need for 'mehram' (male escort for women traveling outside their homes) and whether she repudiated "Western" precepts on the freedoms of women.
She said the hostile questions also came from female legislators, one of whom asked Hassan why she had instituted shelters for battered or abandoned women, which the MP characterized as "places of ill-repute."
When Hassan was rejected by Parliament, the Afghan Women's Network issued a statement calling it "very disappointing."
The Network has drawn up a list of demands addressed to the Afghan government and its international supporters. These include representation by women in the National Security Council and other bodies making decisions on peace and security; a share in the new trust fund for reintegration; and assurances that "reconciliation and reintegration will not take place at the expense of human rights."
Representation by women at these different levels is needed to ensure representation of women's rights in all levels of policymaking, including development issues, the group said in a Jan. 29 statement.
On Feb. 3, the New York-based U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women--CEDAW--expressed regret about the exclusion of women from the London peace conference.
"Afghan women must be full and equal participants in decision-making at all levels in the process of peace building, reconciliation, rebuilding and development of their country," CEDAW said, calling on the Afghan government as well as its international allies to ensure this.
"The numbers of women coming together is increasing," Nehan said. "Seven years ago we were ignored and that's a fact," she added, referring to the 2002 institution of the Afghan interim administration when women were excluded from decision-making positions. "Now we can't be ignored and that's a fact."
Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian journalist who has reported on the South Asian region for 20 years. She has been living in Afghanistan since 2003.
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