"If women are sidelined, the prospects for sustainable peace are slim." Afghanistan will never gain a durable peace by women exclusion and gender equality rejection. No settlement can be reached or applied successfully without women's meaningful participation in Peace Negotiations. Hence, the negotiation parties (Taliban and Afghan government) and Civil Society must protect women's rights and promote gender equality in a Peace Agreement.
The Afghan government defends women's rights and gender equality based on the national laws of Afghanistan. At the same time, the Taliban insist on women's rights-based sharia law. Considering the dark background of the Taliban regime and the Afghanistan government's indeterminate gender equality expression, there is no guarantee for gender equality and women's rights protection in the context of the Intra-Afghan Peace agreement. The intra-Afghan Peace Negotiations parties need to take some specific steps for gender equality promotion to reach sustainable and inclusive peace in Afghanistan.
Gender equality is a sensitive issue in the negotiations. The Taliban are a radical religious group that has problems with gender equality values. Afghan Women representatives with in-depth religious knowledge, gender equality, and women's equal rights can engage the Taliban. The Afghan government must appoint an inclusive negotiating team, with a balance among women and men. Women and civil society must be included effectively in the settlement's implementation and supervision.
For achieving sustainable peace, parties need to understand two things: The Taliban must realize that excluding women is crippling half of society. A defective community can't last for a long time; it will collapse. Accepting gender equality, giving a seat to women in the Taliban negotiating team, and promoting civil society activities will guarantee durable peace and development. There is a close relationship among religious leaders, local councils, and the Taliban. Civil society, particularly women and gender equality rights activists, must extend cooperation and coordination with local councils and religious networks in every Afghanistan district to promote gender equality and women's rights among the local Taliban.
Nothing is more important than peace. Respecting human/women's equal rights is our humanity's responsibility. To reach a sustainable and inclusive peace, we need to protect and promote gender equality and women's rights in Intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
Gender equality is crucial for ensuring sustainable peace and effective implementation of a peace agreement. Women's participation promoted gender provisions in 98 peace agreements across 55 countries between 2000 and 2016. Furthermore, women's direct involvement in peace agreements associates with durable peace.
On September 12, the Intra-Afghan Peace Negotiations began in Doha between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Although there are women, civil society, media, religious, and political leaders' representatives with different visions and ideas regarding critical issues, including gender, achieving a single agreement seems too difficult. This policy brief aims to promote gender equality in any Intra-Afghan Peace Agreement, investigate the gender policy of negotiating parties, and provide recommendations for gender equality in the agreement context and implementation process.
The Afghan government and gender equality
The vast majority of the literature on gender in Afghanistan focuses on the situation of women. A paper by Seema Khan, for instance, found that the Afghan government has initiated institution-building and policymaking on gender under the 2001 Bonn Agreement. But, gender issues and women inclusion feature poorly in the Afghan government's peacebuilding plan.
In 2011, the Government of Afghanistan established a High Peace Council (HPC), with offices in 34 provinces. Neither women's participation nor HPC activities effectively contributed to conflict resolution and peacebuilding; women's participation was symbolic. President Ghani dissolved the HPC in mid-2019. In May 2020, the Afghan government established the Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), which is the government's only national mechanism for peacebuilding. Out of 46 appointed members in HCNR, only nine are women, while former warlords and older male powerbrokers dominate the list. The HNPC doesn't provide any gender equality promotion or women rights protection guarantee in negotiations or reconciliations.
In the Intra-Afghan Peace Negotiations, the government has appointed only four women among the 21-member negotiating team. Women's representation "in reserved seats" reflects the "2001 Afghanistan power structure," which was exclusively dominated by warlords and tribal elders. On the other hand, women's rights are a sensitive issue in the negotiations. Women need to participate in national peace efforts to have a detailed and accurate picture of women's situation in different locations and contexts to represent better and defend them. It seems women have not been satisfied with the women representatives in the negotiations. Taliban are radical religious groups that take issues with the modern democratic form of government that seek equal rights. Afghan representatives with only superficial religious knowledge can't convince the Taliban to accept women's rights and gender equality.
The government states that Afghan women's achievements in the last two decades must be saved. Unfortunately, there is not any clear agenda or mechanism by the Afghan government to protect them. In short, women's rights in Afghanistan face highly uncertain prospects, and most likely, women's rights will deteriorate.
Taliban and gender equality
The Taliban regime was against gender equality, international human and women rights values. While in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban became notorious internationally for their sexism and violence against women. They believe in traditional gender roles, sometimes referred to as gender apartheid. Women were banned from working. Girls were forbidden to attend school or universities, were requested to observe purdah, and be accompanied outside their households by male relatives. Those who violated these restrictions were punished.
Although various Taliban and Taliban-linked interlocutors claim that they do not want a return to the 1990s, with its economic collapse, or want to adopt women's brutal treatment, it prevailed. Their firmly stated position is that the Taliban will protect women's rights under sharia—a rubric that can cover various policies and behavior. Almost always, it means mandated codes of dress and conduct. Yet, the Taliban's negotiating team contains no women at all. Both Western observers and Afghan civil society representatives have repeatedly highlighted the absence of women in the Taliban's governing structures, political offices, and the negotiating team— and raised the issue with the Taliban. But the Taliban have remained rigid and unresponsive to such suggestions. This position reflects the Taliban's continual marginalization of women.
While considering the Taliban's history regarding gender equality and women's rights, and a women's rights conception based on sharia law, universal women's rights protection and gender equality promotion within the context of Intra-Afghan Peace Agreement is not reachable. For creating a durable and long-lasting settlement, the Taliban must soften their view and rules regarding gender equality and women's rights.
Civil Society and gender equality
Civil society includes a wide range of active associations in Afghanistan, including traditional shuras (community councils), religious networks, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), voluntary associations and interest groups, and political parties.
In contrast to government institutions, where women's role almost always was symbolic, women were active in civil society; likewise: in local councils (Jirga), some women had a direct, dynamic role in the peace efforts and dispute resolution. Moreover, civil society, women's rights- and peace activists, alongside governmental officials such as female members of the High Peace Council (HPC) committee, have conducted a series of workshops, conferences, and advocacy programs about women's participation in national peace efforts.
The international community's investment in the Afghan civil society's capacity has been shown to bear fruit. On the one hand, civil society still needs international supports to develop women's inclusion in peacebuilding and extend the programs in all parts of Afghanistan. Civil society activities are not sustainable without international support. On the other hand, the Taliban are against the international presence in Afghanistan, which leads to reinforcement of conflict. Civil society activity plays a vital role in protecting and improving gender equality context in the Afghan peace settlement.
The brief provides a set of recommendations for the Afghan Government, Taliban, and civil society to reach a sustainable peace settlement while considering gender equality as a key element in the Intra-Afghan Peace Agreement.
Basira Paigham is a member of the 2020/21 Young Leaders Forum.
This article has also been published in Dari by Afghanistan Today. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.