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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease 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.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid