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What do Taliban inclusive peace talks mean for women?

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Jem McCarron
WVoN co-editor

Today Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, visits Kabul to emphasise Pakistan’s commitment to peace talks with the Taliban ahead of the departure of foreign troops in 2014.

As a woman, will she be able to help ensure that the rights of women are not ignored?

Just over ten years ago following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban regime collapsed.

This weekend as part of ongoing peace talks the US and the Taliban are negotiating the release of five Taliban officials currently held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On Sunday senior officials in Kabul announced that the Afghan government will be holding talks with the Taliban in coming months.

Afghan officials are hoping to use the meeting to open communications with the Taliban council, Quetta Shura, rumoured to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Whilst the political manoeuvring takes place in and out of the public eye, concerns for what this means for the women of Afghanistan are rising.

The Taliban appeared in Afghanistan in the early ’90s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops, and were a formidable force by 1994.

During that regime, the country was subject to gender apartheid. Women and men were segregated under a harsh form of Sharia imposed by a squad of 30,000 men working for the Ministry of Vice and Virtue.

Women had to be covered from head to toe in a burqa and could only venture out of their homes if accompanied by a family member.

They could not wear high-heels, lest their approach be heard and excite men; they had to speak quietly so that no stranger would overhear them and they could not be photographed or filmed.

Ground floor windows had to be shuttered to prevent passersby seeing women in their homes and they were banned from appearing on balconies.

Girls over the age of eight were not allowed to attend school, something the Taliban claimed to be a temporary situation whilst they ensured the security of women getting to and from school.

In 1996 the Taliban banned women from employment, except those working as health professionals. Sadly many of those quit due to the practical difficulties of getting to their workplace.

Women were marginalised almost entirely, Taliban-governed Afghanistan was a country dominated by men, with women barely seen and never heard.

Today though, the Taliban argue that they have changed.

Maulavi Qalamuddin, once head of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue and now a member of the High Peace Council is no longer overseeing public executions of women accused of adultery, but is instead involved in the creation of a network of schools for girls.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal Qalamuddin said:

“Education for women is just as necessary as education for men. In Islam, men and women have the same duty to pray, to fast—and to seek learning.”

This view is echoed by other Taliban officials such as Zabihullah Mujahid. “As a movement gets older, it becomes more mature, and makes positive changes.”

In today’s Afghanistan women have had to face significant difficulties since the US invasion in 2001, but many have embraced the freedoms brought about by the departure of the Taliban.

Worryingly, recent negotiations have all but excluded women and there are fears that without a place at the table the voice of women will, once again, not be heard.

The chair of the Independent Human Rights Commission, Sima Samar was reported in the Alaska Dispatch saying that:

“The international community] talks about women’s rights, but then they don’t include them [in peace talks]. Women’s involvement should be one of the conditions.

“The problem here is that it’s not only the Afghans, it’s the international community that also sees that women are not capable or useful in the negotiations.”

The general consensus amongst experts is that peace cannot be achieved in Afghanistan without the Taliban on board.

It is up to the rest of the world to ensure that women are given a place at the table and an active role in the decisions about their country’s future.

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