Opinion and Editorial

Exclusion of women from Afghan peace talks remains the norm

Masooma Rahmaty
Filed on April 6, 2021
Afghan women mourn inside a hospital compound after a suicide attack in Kabul in 2017. — Reuters file

The government is failing to protect women activists and peace-builders, even its own civil servants who are also being targeted

Two years ago, before even direct talks between the Taleban and the United States began, the missing voices of women in Afghanistan in peace talks was a glaring problem. It was clear at the time that the rushed attempt by the US government to end the ongoing conflict would undermine the achievements made by Afghan women in the past two decades. The continued exclusion of Afghan women from the peace process will have serious consequences for the future of the country, and the durability of any negotiated peace requires that the commitment to women’s meaningful participation both in peace negotiations and in governance be upheld going forward.

More than a year has passed since the US-Taleban agreement paved the way for the start of a formal peace process with direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taleban, however little has changed. While delegations from both parties have been meeting in Doha to negotiate, violence and civilian casualties have simultaneously increased. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recently reported that after the intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taleban began, civilian casualties increased by 45 per cent in the final quarter of 2020 versus the same period in 2019. The increased insecurity and the continued inability of the government to protect people have led to further erosion of public trust in the whole peace process.

Furthermore, despite extensive advocacy work by Afghan women and the international community to include women in the peace process, their exclusion largely continues. While the Afghan government’s delegation to the talks in Doha includes four prominent women negotiators — something unprecedented for Afghanistan — it is still not enough given that their views are often ignored in such meetings.

There was only one woman in the 12-member delegation present at the meeting: Dr Habiba Sarabi. She is also one of the women negotiators in the Doha delegation. In her speech in a room full of men, Sarabi stated: “Women suffer the most from war, but why are we not considered in meetings such as this? It is unfortunately because we are still not part of a political party and…we are still not the leader of a military group that has power…which is why the host countries also don’t consider women…[I am] thus requesting the hosts to take note of this in the future.”

What complicates the matter even more is increased threats and targeted attacks against civil society organisations, journalists, human rights defenders, and women activists, including women peace-builders. Just recently, three female journalists were killed by gunmen in Jalalabad. One of the suspects arrested was found to be connected to the Taleban. In fact, Fawzia Koofi, who is one of the four women negotiators on the Afghan delegation team, was also attacked by gunmen near Kabul. While she survived, it is still not clear who was responsible for the attack.

UNAMA’s report found that in 2020, women comprised 13 per cent of overall casualties. Pro-government forces, including the international military, are responsible for 34 per cent of women casualties and the Taleban and the Daesh for 43 per cent. The actual number of women casualties in 2020 is also the highest recorded since UNAMA began documenting them in 2009. The targeted killings of women tripled in comparison to 2019. This new wave of violence against women peace-builders, journalists, civil society, and rights is a tactic used to silence critics and oppositions. As a result, many educated and young Afghans are leaving the country to take refuge elsewhere.

The government is failing to protect women activists and peace-builders, even its own civil servants who are also being targeted. With incidences against women as the main targets of insurgent groups such as the Taleban on the rise, ignoring their agency to be part of a peace process is a paramount concern. Afghanistan has adopted UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security, and developed its National Action Plan in 2015. The Afghan government is therefore obligated to support women’s meaningful participation in the ongoing peace process, as well as to provide them with the necessary protections that ensure their safety.

As the peace talks gain momentum again and the new US administration is finalising its strategy on Afghanistan, ensuring that women’s voices are sufficiently represented in peace efforts should be a top priority. The international community, especially donors and those that host the talks, should continue to put pressure on the Afghan government and the Taleban to include women in key decision-making meetings such as those taking place in Turkey this April. The recent joint statement by the Group of Friends of Afghanistan is a step in the right direction, but statements need to be translated into action. With support from the newly-appointed UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy on Afghanistan and Regional Issues, the international community can, with a united voice, call on all parties involved in the Afghan peace talks to prioritise the diverse participation of women as the only means for ensuring lasting peace, after more than four decades of conflict. — IPI Global Observatory

Masooma Rahmaty is a Policy Analyst in the SDGs for Peace, and Women Peace and Security programmes at the International Peace Institute.

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