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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs