News / Asia

    Afghan Official: Talks with Taliban Will Not be at Expense of Women

    Afghan women arrive to attend a ceremony in conjunction with International Women's day in Kabul March 10, 2011.
    Afghan women arrive to attend a ceremony in conjunction with International Women's day in Kabul March 10, 2011.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    As Afghanistan looks to a future without U.S. troops, the Kabul government says reconciling with the Taliban is critical to making peace after nearly 10 years of war. Some human rights activists are concerned that reconciliation could lead to a return of the repressive conditions they suffered during Taliban rule. But Afghan Labor and Social Affairs Minister Amina Afzali says the process will be at no cost to the progress already made by women in her country.

    “All those who join the peace process must respect the Afghan constitution, and women’s place in society is part of the Afghan constitution,” Afzali told VOA.

    The Taliban nearly erased women’s rights when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, preventing girls from going to school and women from working outside the home. Under the Taliban, women were required to wear burqas, covering themselves from head to toe.

    “It cannot be compared. Under the Taliban, life was difficult for both men and women,” she said. “The right to life was snatched from women.”

    Listen to JulieAnn McKellogg's interview with Afghan Labor and Social Affairs Minister Amina Afzali

    Afghan Labor and Social Affairs Minister Amina Afzali in talks with U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in Washington, May 10, 2011
    Afghan Labor and Social Affairs Minister Amina Afzali in talks with U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in Washington, May 10, 2011

    It is a far cry from the life Afzali leads today. The veteran human rights activist and former science professor wore a long grey business jacket over pants and a hijab covering her hair during her visit to VOA’s studios. It was one of many stops in a busy three-day visit to Washington last week that included meetings with members of Congress, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Erik Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, and officials from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

    Political Gains at a Cost

    Since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, women have slowly but steadily regained a voice in society. Afzali is one of three women serving in the cabinet of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  In addition, women hold 69 seats in the lower house of parliament, one more than the number reserved for them.

    Women’s attempts to reclaim their former roles in society have not come without danger. There was an increase in intimidation of women candidates during last year’s parliamentary elections. Death threats from the Taliban surfaced for many of the approximately 400 women who ran for seats in the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament.

    Despite those threats, President Hamid Karzai is pursuing a U.S.-backed plan to reintegrate low-level members of the Taliban into the political process.

    Afghan women listen to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, during a speech about women's rights, in Kabul (File)
    Afghan women listen to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, during a speech about women's rights, in Kabul (File)

    Afzali says the government recognizes women are a valuable part of the peace process, citing the five who sit on the High Peace Council, a 70-member group created to facilitate reconciliation with the Taliban.

    Human Rights Watch is one of the groups expressing concerns about reconciliation with the Taliban. Liesel Gerntholtz, the director of the New York-based group’s Women’s Rights Division, points to the Shia Personal Status Law, which critics say enacts Taliban-style restrictions on Shi’ite women. The law allows a man to dictate his wife’s comings and goings from the house and makes it a duty for a woman not to refuse sex when her husband wants it.

    “Even though the government has put in place a constitution that recognizes women's equality, that you've had laws passed that are supposed to protect women from violence, we are still documenting failures on the part of the government, either to implement their own laws or where the government is actively seeking to reach out to conservative elements, including with the Taliban, by undermining women's rights,” Gerntholtz said.

    Human Rights Watch wants reconciliation with the Taliban to include a vetting mechanism to ensure people responsible for serious human rights violations are excluded from the government.

    Afzali said her government wants the international community to hold it accountable for any possible setbacks.

    “We want all those countries which helped bring a great change in the status of Afghan women, [to] watch the peace process, to make sure the last 10 year’s achievement do not get rolled back,” the minister said.

    A Need for Jobs

    One area that is critical to the future of Afghan women and overall stability in the country is the issue of jobs and employment.

    “We are working in this regards, Afghan government is determined that awareness about women rights happens all aspects of life. All projects, whether funded by donors of the government have Adult education and women’s awareness as part of it. When women there are awareness among women about their rights, they themselves defend their rights,” said Afzali.

    The Afghan Ministry of Labor, headed by Afzali, is providing vocational training throughout the country to prevent those fighters from returning to the insurgency, and dissuade others from joining.

    “Employment has a direct impact on security and unemployment causes insecurity.  Stability and peace can be brought with employment,” Afzali said.

    The Afghan labor minister made it clear a peaceful and prosperous future for Afghan women, and men cannot be the work of her government alone. She said it requires the continued aid and support of the United States and its allies.

    The Drawdown

    Taliban spokesmen have said their group will only consider peace talks when international forces are out of Afghanistan.  Kabul and its western allies are pursuing other means to stop the estimated 20,000 Taliban insurgents on the battlefield. About 1,700 Afghan fighters have laid down their arms in the past 10 months under the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program, according to British Major General Phil Jones, who heads NATO’s arm of the program.

    In a conference call from Afghanistan last week, he told reporters that strategically, the numbers remain modest, but the reintegration program appears to represent a “sufficient relief valve” for insurgents to “step out of the fight and step into a peace program.”

    The true test of Afghanistan’s ability to jumpstart its economy and reconcile with the Taliban, while fighting for women’s rights, will come later this year.

    A drawdown of the approximately 100,000 U.S. troops in the country will begin in the coming months, as the U.S. takes steps to wrap up the decade-long war. A full exit of combat troops from the country is scheduled for 2014. But the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces has left many questioning how this might change the Afghan war strategy.

    Afzali cautioned the drawdown should be gradual. She said Afghan forces should be fully trained and equipped “to the extent that they would replace the international forces.”

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.