Taliban fighters pose in Afghanistan's Farah province. (Courtesy)

“We Want Peace, We Want Security…”

There is an effort underway to get women involved in Afghanistan’s peace talks

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, is pushing for women to be involved in the country’s peace talks with the Taliban. He met this week with government representatives and female leaders in the capital city of Kabul.

Khalizad’s efforts echo the appeal made last Friday at UN headquarters in New York by Angelina Jolie, actress and special envoy for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for women to be included in the negotiations.

Pari Farmani, senior program officer for the gender, women and democracy team at the Washington-based think tank National Democratic Institute (NDI), said the US push for women to be included was meant in part to implement the US Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017, a law that seeks to “ensure that the United States promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate or resolve violent conflict” globally.

“Research from around the world shows that when women are included in peace negotiations, the resulting agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years,” Farmani told The Media Line. “When women are included, peace is more likely to last.”

Afghan women have already demonstrated an ability to mediate peace, Farmani said. Women on provincial peace councils have forged agreements that have freed hostages and helped ex-fighters integrate back into society. And women on the Afghan High Peace Council, she said, have carried out country-wide campaigns to garner support for the talks with the Taliban.

“Women at all levels have worked tirelessly across ethnic, religious and tribal lines to address social welfare and humanitarian concerns in communities,” Farmani said.

One such woman is Fatana Gailani, head of the Afghanistan Women Council, which provides 2,000 women with microfinance loans and support in obtaining education. If the US-led coalition leaves the country and the Taliban try to seize power in areas they do not already control, she is concerned that the freedoms women have gained since the American intervention in 2001 will be lost.

“We are worried a lot about the Taliban, with their fanatic ideology. They are not nice to women; they closed down our schools,” Gailani told The Media Line.

“If the Taliban come into power, we want to keep the rights we have. We want a woman minister. We want three or four women in the cabinet. We want women to have less economic problems and be able to go to school,” she said.

Gailani hopes that damage to human rights by an Islamist takeover can be ameliorated if other countries get involved to help protect Afghan women.

“We are asking the international community to secure a guarantee from the Taliban that women’s rights will be protected,” she said.

The NDI’s Farmani said that a global commitment was crucial in getting women involved in the talks.

“With enough international pressure, and if the United States government makes a strong and forceful commitment to including women by extending invitations to Afghan civil society, it is likely that women will be present at the talks,” she told The Media Line.

Yasar Ahmadzai, CEO of the Afghanistan Institute of Peace (AFGIP), an independent, non-governmental association based in Kabul, also told The Media Line it was important for women to be represented in the negotiations with the Taliban.

“Women’s representation could serve to ensure that women’s rights are included as part of the ongoing peace talks,” he said.

He added that female inclusion was an important part of the democratic state that Afghans wanted to create.

“In the 21st century, there are lots of democratization standards that Afghans accept, like human rights, women’s rights, gender equality and more. Now is the time to practice these standards in such important talks,” Ahmadzai said.

Afghanistan has been embroiled in the current conflict for almost 18 years, but Ahmadzai feels optimistic about the future of his country.

“We are hopeful about the prospects for peace from these ongoing talks. Afghans are really tired of this war; there isn’t a single family here that hasn’t lost a relative,” he said.

He added that the only ones in Afghanistan who don’t want peace is the country’s warlords. Known for corruption, they yield power through violence and steal millions from other Afghans.

The warlords “fear that if peace comes, justice will take place and they will be powerless without their guns,” he told The Media Line, adding he believed that this time, the Afghan people would not let the warlords scuttle the peace talks.

With their future at risk, Afghan women clearly want to make sure their voices are heard.

“We want peace, we want security, we want women to go to school,” Gailani said. “We want normal things, like what you have in your country and other countries around the world.”

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies)

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