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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More