Afghan women negotiators face Taliban in peace talks

14 September, 2020 12:00 AM printer

KABUL: Four Afghan women who endured the Taliban’s oppressive rule and have fought for fragile gains since the militants were ousted are facing the hardline group in peace talks, reports AFP.

Their presence at the negotiating table is significant in patriarchal Afghanistan, though they are outnumbered by the rest of the Afghan government’s team of 17 men and the Taliban’s male-only side.

“The Taliban have to understand that they are facing a new Afghanistan with which they have to learn to live,” negotiator Fawzia Koofi told AFP ahead of the talks, which got underway on Saturday.

The politician and high-profile women’s rights campaigner has survived two assassination attempts during her career—the latest just last month in Kabul.

“Being in such an important role is not something which is very common in Afghanistan, so you really have to find your way among those people who do not believe in a woman’s presence,” Koofi said before the shooting.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, her husband was jailed and she was threatened with stoning for wearing nail polish, she said.

Religious police whipped women in the street if they wore anything other than an all-concealing burqa, and those accused of adultery were sometimes executed at sports stadiums after Friday prayers.

Today, the traditional patriarchal system remains the norm and life for most women in rural areas has improved little since the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban, who banned girls from going to school and women from working.

However, in Kabul and other Afghan cities, progress has been made.

Some women study at secondary and tertiary level and hold elected positions or run businesses, albeit in disproportionately low numbers. Koofi is one of a few women who held unofficial talks with the Taliban in 2019 and knows the battle female negotiators are facing.

“It’s not just about what you are talking,” she said. “People look at what you wear, whether your scarf is of the right size or not.”

Washington signed a deal with the Taliban in February committing to withdraw foreign forces in return for a pledge from the insurgents to hold talks with the Afghan government, aimed at ending the war.

After long delays over a controversial prisoner swap, direct talks finally opened in the Qatari capital Doha on Saturday. Islamic law expert and negotiator Fatima Gailani, 66, told AFP that women were apprehensive about negotiations with the Taliban.

“Every woman in Afghanistan has a fear... we always have a fear that whenever there are changes in Afghanistan and whenever there is a political change, always women are hurt,” said Gailani, a spokeswoman for the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1980s and former president of the Afghan Red Cross.


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