Afghan women criticize the symbolic presence of women in Taliban peace talks along with the exclusion of women who are considered not to be traditional.
Women will be included in the Taliban delegation to peace talks in Qatar this month, the movement's main spokesman said Monday, ahead of the latest round of meetings aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, news that Afghan women activists are warning might not mean real progress.
The April 19-21 meeting in Doha will be between the Taliban and a delegation comprising prominent Afghans, including opposition politicians and civil society activists. It follows similar talks between the two sides in Moscow in February.
This is not the first time women will be presented in peace talks on the end of the war in Afghanistan. The previous rounds of peace talks included very few women with a symbolic presence and a limited time to express their opinions.
“Such meetings are mostly led by men while women are given very little chance to talk or share their views,” Shinkai Karokhel, a former Afghanistan envoy to Canada told local media in February after a round of peace talks in Moscow.
The exclusion of the Afghan government from the peace talks is considered to be problematic as it will only represent the interests of the United States and the Taliban. Many women fear that peace with the Taliban means repression of women.
“Yes, we want peace but not at the cost of our lives. Not at the cost of our freedom,” said Samira Hamidi, an Afghan women rights activist.
Taliban has a history of suppressing women's rights. When they first came to power in 1996, women were banned from going to school, having jobs, and restricted from having any sort of public life.
"There have been many reports of beatings and public trials of women by the Taliban in recent years," Humira Saqib, the editor of the Afghan Women's News Agency (ONA) said.
Many fear that if the group regains some power, many of the long-fought gains could be erased and the society would see a return to laws based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law as was the case pre-U.S. invasion in 2001.
"If we see the Taliban as part of any government, I'm not sure they will consider us full members of society. I'm really worried that the restrictions that were imposed on women in the 1990s will be back in the first place,” Saqib said.
The type of women chosen for peace talks also caused concern among Afghan women activists.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's main spokesman said the women chosen for the upcoming peace talk “have no family relationship with the senior members of the Taliban, they are normal Afghans, from inside and outside the country, who have been supporters and part of the struggle of the Islamic Emirate.”
Women like Hamidi or Forozan Rasooli, a civil society activist, are not considered as traditional Afghan women according to the Taliban.
“The Taliban say outspoken women do not represent the majority of women,” hence the absence of women with a voice, Rasooli said about previous peace talks.
Silence from western women rights advocates has also been criticized by Afghan women activists.
When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the George Bush administration appropriated feminists’ concern of Afghan women under the Taliban according to Iris M. Young, a political scientist. She wrote in “The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State” essay that the former U.S. president exploited the issue of women rights to invade Afghanistan.
“The women of Afghanistan constituted the ultimate victims, putting the United States in the position of ultimate protector,” Young wrote.
It is noteworthy that the Taliban was ruling Afganistan since 1996, but the concern for women was only raised in 2001, post 9/11.
However, even in recent times, women are still not “free” unlike U.S. President George Bush Jr.’s claim in his 2002 State of the Union address.
But what is missing are the voices of western feminists. According to Nasrine Gross, an Afghan women rights activist, the support for Afghan women was no more than a justification to invade the country.
“How angry I am, how anguished I am. Where are these American women?” questioned Gross.